Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition which can develop after a life threatening trauma. Unfortunately life can bring along traumas and accidents when we least expect them and getting over the trauma can be difficult. This includes car accidents, accidents at work or home, loss of a limb, burglary, mugging, assault, being burned, a diagnosis of a life threatening disease, ‘near misses’ such as a heart attack, trauma during childbirth, physical or sexual abuse in a marital relationship, sexual abuse as a child, witnessing horrific injuries or death of others, or major surgery and medical treatments such as chemotherapy. Many people manage to get over such traumas themselves and with the help of friends, but sometimes if the trauma is very severe, they just can’t recover by themselves.
There are 4 sets of symptoms which if they occur together are classified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
- Persistently re-experiencing the trauma; nightmares, flashbacks, feeling as if it is happening again, or things easily set off the same feeling
- General stress; poor sleep, irritability, can’t concentrate, easily startled, on ‘red alert’ for danger.
- Numbing or feeling cut off from things; ‘anaesthetised’ feelings, detached from people, can’t remember parts of the trauma, not wanting to get involved socially with others.
- Avoiding reminders of the trauma, e.g. not travelling in a car after a car crash, or avoiding watching car chases on the TV, avoiding thinking or talking about the accident, or going anywhere similar.
In my self-help book ‘Understanding Trauma; how to overcome Post Traumatic Stress’ (Lion-Hudson, Oxford, 2010), I explain how these attempts to avoid reminders of the accident actually work against the person and can contribute to getting PTSD. I describe how ‘Emotional Processing Therapy’ works (a version of prolonged exposure), giving numerous case histories of people who have overcome PTSD.
I have treated many people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with very different types of trauma. It is one psychological condition where I have found what you could call a complete care using this therapeutic approach.
A course of therapy lasts between 8-18 sessions, depending on the type of trauma. Sessions are frequent at first (every 2 weeks), but less frequent in the latter part of therapy (about once a month) as the person enters the ‘follow-up’ stage.