PTSD: What happens after a trauma?

Sydney PTSD post traumatic stress disorder Melbourne psychologistsMore than a quarter in a million Australians experiences the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, once a year. At least 5% of all Australians have reported to suffer from PTSD at least once in their lifetime. The most common cause of PTSD is serious automobile accidents.

Different people respond differently to trauma. Some wave it off as a minor scar and move on with their lives. Others may be required to take measures to battle the flashbacks and loss that seems to dominate their lives.

If your fragile personality is standing in the way of your recovery from a recent trauma, then you need to identify if you are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and likewise consider a suitable form of therapy.

What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that categorizes a set of reactions that occur in individuals who have faced or witnessed an incident, which posed a direct threat to their sense of safety or their lives. It may also be an event that threatened the security of loved ones or sometimes even complete strangers.

What is common to all these incidents is a feeling of helplessness, intense fear or terror that followed as a consequence. These incidents may be natural disasters, war, serious automobile accidents, physical or sexual torture. Although events like divorce and the impending death of an ill family member may prove devastating, they are not classified as triggers for PTSD.

Anybody is highly prone to developing this condition upon facing serious crippling traumatic encounters but according to surveys, those exposed to sexual or physical assault, undergoing repeated trauma or residing in war zones are most prone.

The sufferers develop unusual responses to help them deal with the anxiety of the experience. Many seek solace in avoidance of places, people or situations that may serve as reminders. Some fail to cope to the extent that they become excessively sensitive to normal life experiences (hyper-arousal).

Symptoms:

The symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder may be classified widely under three categories. It is imperative to establish a diagnosis of PTSD if the following symptoms occur for over 30 days:

  1. Reliving the event or recurrent re-experiencing the trauma
  • Troublesome, unwanted memories.
  • Flashbacks that happens over and over again.
  • Repeated vivid nightmares of the experience.
  • Dissociative reliving of the trauma
  • Strong and bothersome reactions to situations that serve as reminders of the event.
  1. Strong attempts at avoidance
  • Experiencing phobia of people, places and experiences that serve as reminders.
  • An emotional numbness of responsiveness and feeling that you do not care.
  • Feeling detached.
  • Decreased interest in everyday activities.
  • Feeling flat and that like you have no future.
  1. Hyper arousal:
  • Sleep problems.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Irritability.
  • Anger.
  • Blackouts or difficulty remembering.
  • Easily startled.
  • Being extra vigilant to threat.

Some individuals might also develop a condition that is called survivor’s guilt and as a consequence may exhibit symptoms of anxiety or stress like agitation, irritability, dizziness, fainting, palpitations and headaches. Survivor guilt can arise when you survive a traumatic event and others don’t or are tragically impacted. The survivor is often left with feelings of guilt and thought of ‘why did I survive and not them?’.

Treatment:

Like any other disorder of the mind, PTSD can be effectively managed with the right treatment under the keen eye of a qualified counsellor, psychologist or therapist. A successful recovery lays its foundations on both psychological and medical interventions. The following approaches have been deemed successful:

  1. Psychotherapy: Informing the individual about the illness and indulging in healthy conversations about the experience whereby the therapist helps formulate ways to help the person cope with the symptoms and manage the responses in a positive light are the basic techniques employed in psychotherapy. What the therapist aims at is making the sufferer believe that his condition is a result of extraordinary stress rather than a weakness and dispelling any misconceptions that the victim harbours about the illness. By employing simple techniques like anger management or breathing exercises, they can help the individuals gain a mastery over their emotional and physical responses.
  2. Exposure-based cognitive behaviour treatment: This can be utilised in accompaniment to the techniques mentioned above and have the person recall their traumatic experienced with the help of verbal recall and images and inculcate the coping mechanisms during this exposure to the fear.
  3. Group cognitive behaviour psychotherapy: By this method, the sufferer can be educated about the logic behind their feelings by sharing group stories and their trauma adjusting coping methods. Groups are a powerful place of receiving and giving support to others. This also enables the individual to recognise common negative thoughts held by traumatised people and a sense of ‘I’m not alone’ can be a powerful healing experience.
  4. Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This employs a technique in which the individual is encouraged to talk about the traumatic experience and the negative feelings associated while focusing on the therapist’s moving finger.
  5. Image rehearsal therapy: This does not help alleviate the PTSD problems but may address the symptoms regarding sleep disturbances. It involves rehearsing ways to adapt and cope with nightmares. Other therapies suitable for sleep problems are training in relaxation techniques and positive self-talk.
  6. Medication: Individuals with PTSD are recorded to have suffered much less relapses of their symptoms if they are treated with anti depressants like fluoxetine, paroxetine and sertraline for at least a year.

It is rather common in PTSD sufferers to suffer from additional problems. Around 80% have been recorded to develop depression and anxiety shortly after PTSD. Some may resort to alcohol or drug abuse as a refuge from the stress. Hence timely intervention can prevent a manageable condition from inflicting more harm.


If you or someone you know may be suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, Australia Counselling links you with professional counsellors, psychologists and social workers in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Canberrs and regional areas. Search our post traumatic stress disorder page to find a counsellor near you.

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