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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop as a result of an individual experiencing and/or witnessing very difficult life events. Examples might include actual or threat of death, serious injury, sexual violence and/or other forms of abuse (e.g. emotional or physical abuse).
Typically, PTSD develops within 3 months of the traumatic event, however it can also be triggered long after the event by increases in stress or by a reminder of the trauma. When triggered people can experience a wide range of symptoms which can very disorientating and upsetting for the individual. These include:
- Reminders of the trauma – Flashbacks, recurring memories and nightmares about the traumatic event
- Avoidance of thoughts, feelings or memories related to the trauma.
- Associated mood problems such as anxiety, depression and anger
- Increased arousal/hypervigilance (i.e. feeling constantly on edge)
What keeps PTSD going?
Our brains process information differently during traumatic events. As a result, trauma memories have a different feel to them from normal memories. They are easily triggered by reminders of the trauma and when they are triggered it feels like the trauma is happening again.
People who have experienced PTSD often feel like they are stuck at the time of trauma and so to some extent they act as though the trauma is recurring. The person can become overly aware of threat and because it was such a difficult experience, they may go to great lengths to avoid any reminders of the trauma. This prevents processing (making sense of what happened) of the traumatic event and without psychological help the individual can find it difficult to move on from it.
How can CBT help?
Trauma focused Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) often includes the following components:
- Grounding and stabilisation – Practising techniques to manage the overwhelming feelings PTSD brings.
- Work with memories – Approaching memories of the trauma in order to process them properly. This is done through a process called “reliving” and involves talking through what happened, deliberately imagining the events, and/or writing or drawing about it.
- Work with beliefs – traumatic events can substantially affect the way people view themselves, others and the world in very negative way. This component of the treatment is about making sense of what you thought at the time of the trauma, and deciding on what is the most helpful way to think about now.
- Reclaiming your life – It is very common after trauma to start avoiding things which make you uncomfortable, but this can have the effect of increase distress. This component of therapy is about taking back the things that you used to enjoy, and moving on.
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