The damaging effects of traumatic events
A trauma is something that usually happens suddenly; but not always so, it can cause you to feel highly vulnerable, maybe you or someone you care about was in an accident or injured. You may have seen something traumatic, or heard about someone else being hurt or close to injury. Or, you may have heard about something that caused you to feel a lot of strong emotions linked to fear or dread.
Sometimes a trauma can result from a long sequence of unpleasant things such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood or early adulthood.
Post Traumatic Stress
One possible consequence of trauma is what has come to be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You can judge if you are likely to be suffering symptoms of PTSD by asking yourself these questions:
Do upsetting thoughts or memories about the event come into your mind against your will at least twice per week?
Do you have upsetting dreams about the event more than twice per week?
Do you ever act or feel as though it is happening again at least twice per week?
Are you upset by reminders of the event at least twice per week?
Do you have bodily reactions such as sweatiness, stomach churning or dizziness when reminded of the event at least twice per week?
Do you have difficulty falling or staying asleep at least twice per week?
Do you have irritability or outbursts of anger at least twice per week?
Do you have difficulty in concentrating at least twice per week?
Do you have heightened awareness of potential dangers to yourself or others at least twice per week?
Are you jumpy or more easily startled at something unexpected at least twice per week?
Derived from Brewin, Rose, Andrews, Green, Tata, McEvedy, Turner & Foa (2002)
These questions are only valid if the trauma was more than four weeks ago. If you can answer yes to six or more of these questions you may be suffering from symptoms of Post Trauma Stress. It may therefore be worth arranging to have a more formal assessment in the Berkshire Psychology Service by a professional who can also suggest useful treatments to you.
How does trauma affect you?
When something happens to you that causes the release into your blood stream of high levels of stress hormones this can interfere with how you remember that particular event. One obvious characteristic of PTSD is that, almost no matter how long ago something happened, the memory still feels fresh; as if it happened very recently. This means that your brain has not been able to file the memory with other memories from that time period.
When something happens that we call ‘traumatic’ it is often recalled as the worst thing that has ever happened. And because the memory seems to defy the normal process of fading with time that most memories undergo, it leaves trauma sufferer feeling very physiologically aroused, or stressed. When the memory comes to mind it usually evokes many of the feelings that were present at the time of the original event.
People make every effort they can to avoid these painful memories from coming to mind. Or at least control them when they do come to mind. You may find that you are trying to push the memory out of mind, or avoid people, places or things that have the ability to trigger memories of the original event. These attempts at avoidance are only ever partially successful and are never a good enough solution to completely resolve the memory of the trauma.
Memories of trauma usually leave you feeling quite negative about yourself. Because you will be making efforts to avoid the full emotional force of the trauma, but are not completely successful, it can feel like you are losing control of your internal world. Some people believe they are going mad.
All of these experiences are common to trauma sufferers, but the good news is that trauma is something that can be successful resolved. So that it is no longer a problem.
Treatment for trauma and PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is relatively common among the population. Road traffic accidents are a leading source of PTSD.
The treatment of PTSD is well understood by psychologists and is usually very successful. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has published guidelines for the treatment of PTSD and the Berkshire Psychology Service adheres to these offering a very effective evidence based treatment program.
In the first instance we will set up a meeting with you to assess your current circumstances. Following that meeting you will have a detailed understanding of the trauma and the consequences it has upon you. This will allow you to understand what is happening and how we propose to resolve it.
Throughout the treatment program you will have full control of the process and you will understand everything that we do together. At the end of treatment you will feel that the trauma is now in the past and that you can move on with your life.
Normally counselling or psychotherapy that is not trauma focused does not resolve this problem. Specialist help is essential.