Jonathan Hooker

Dealing With Trauma


Trauma can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or an ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred, or was threatened to you or someone close to you. Traumatic events include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, military combat, or some illness or attack that appears life threatening or frightening. 

The trauma can come from having been involved in, or witnessed alarming events, from natural disasters to sudden unexpected bereavement, or even being diagnosed with a serious illness.

Those who are seriously affected by an event or witnessing an event, and who do not receive treatment, may go on to develop a condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To avoid this, counselling will take place soon after the traumatic event, ideally within three or four weeks, to allow the individual to express and understand the emotions experienced. 

What is it?

The symptoms of PTSD usually develop within three months of a traumatic event, although they can take up to a year to appear and must persist for at least a month for it to be diagnosed. People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal, (like flashbacks), and may feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. They may experience sleep problems, and may be troubled by bad dreams or nightmares.

PTSD is a response by normal people to an abnormal situation

The traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone. When your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it’s normal to feel crazy, disconnected, or numb – and most people do. The only difference between people who go on to develop PTSD and those who don’t is how they cope with the trauma.

After a traumatic experience, the mind and the body are in shock. But as you make sense of what happened and process your emotions, you come out of it. With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.

How is it Treated?

People can recover from PTSD within months, but the condition can last for many years. Treatment may be based on a combination of psychological therapies, and may include the taking of medication, such as drugs for depression and anxiety, if the symptoms are sufficiently severe to prevent the sufferer living a normal life during the therapy treatment.

Psychotherapy for Trauma Victims and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The focus is usually on two approaches; the first is aimed at reliving the experience and achieving an improved understanding of why it caused such a severe reaction, and the second focuses on the reactions and on understanding them and changing them.

With psychodynamic psychotherapy, the individual has the opportunity to discuss the event, relive it, and achieve a better understanding of why it has triggered so severe a psychological and physiological reaction. Exposure therapy can also be helpful, although it may seem stressful at first as it involves confronting the fears and reliving the event, with the therapist, to help the person learn how to cope. It is important to deal with both the psychological and the physiological reactions.

Cognitive-behavioral techniques may be used to reduce anxiety and depression, and aid with insomnia. Cognitive-behavioural therapy can help people understand the condition and thought processes. Trauma victims can learn how to change their behaviour or reaction to their symptoms through breathing techniques and emotional control.

Psychotherapists treating PTSD try to provide a way for the client to feel safe in confronting the traumatic event, and linking it emotionally as well as intellectually to the symptoms. Patients must learn to think about the trauma without intrusive reliving, and exercise self-control, without avoidance and emotional numbing. 

Some clients are reluctant to talk because they believe the therapist cannot possibly understand what they have been through. Some resist any suggestion that the traumatic event is related to their symptoms. Their helplessness is confirmed by nightmares and flashbacks that remind them of their inability to protect themselves during the trauma. Some have become convinced that the world is hopelessly unjust, others that they themselves are defective or evil. Some clients make emotional demands and direct their accumulated anger at the therapist, they may quit therapy because they can no longer tolerate being exposed to their feelings about the trauma. 

Behavioral therapy focuses on changing specific actions and uses several techniques to decreases or stop unwanted behavior. For example, one technique trains patients in diaphragmatic breathing, a special breathing exercise involving slow, deep breaths to reduce anxiety. This is necessary because people who are anxious often hyperventilate, taking rapid shallow breaths that can trigger rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, and other symptoms. Another technique—exposure therapy—gradually exposes patients to what frightens them and helps them cope with their fears. 

Like behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches patients to react differently to the situations and bodily sensations that trigger panic attacks and post traumatic stress disorder. However, patients also learn to understand how their thinking patterns contribute to their symptoms and how to change their thoughts so that symptoms are less likely to occur. This awareness of thinking patterns is combined with exposure and other behavioral techniques to help people confront their feared situations. For example, someone who becomes lightheaded during a panic attack and fears he is going to die can be helped with the following approach used in cognitive-behavioral therapy. The therapist asks him to spin in a circle until he becomes dizzy. When he becomes alarmed and starts thinking, “I’m going to die,” he learns to replace that thought with a more appropriate one, such as “It’s just a little dizziness—I can handle it.”

Drug Treatment 

Any drug treatment will ideally be aimed at relieving fear and anxiety and restoring normal sleep patterns. This is to allow the sufferer to live a more or less normal life, while receiving the counselling they need to overcome the effects of their traumatic event. Drug treatments are very rarely permanent cures, and are normally used to treat symptoms, and in conjunction with, therapy which deals with the root cause.

If you may have suffered a trauma, learn the options available to you

Book your free call. There is no obligation to make an appointment and you will feel clearer afterwards.