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Healing from trauma: The role of counselling in managing PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a type of anxiety disorder which is a result of a severely stressful experience or event. PTSD can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and it can occur in response to a wide range of traumatic experiences.

 

Understanding PTSD

Following a traumatic event or stressful life experience, fear is a natural part of the body’s “fight or flight” response, and in some cases, the effects are short-term. However, for many people symptoms and reactions after trauma can persist for years, those people may be diagnosed with PTSD.  

 

What can cause PTSD? Some include:

• Natural disasters 

• Physical assault

• Sexual assault

• War/ combat exposure

• Death of a loved one

• A serious accident

• Childhood trauma 

• Terrorist attacks

 

The main symptom areas of PTSD are:

Re-experiencing:

This is when people feel they are back in that stressful situation. It can include having flashbacks and vivid, distressing recollections of the traumatic event during the day as if it were happening again. It can also manifest as nightmares during the night where you have disturbing dreams related to the traumatic event.

PTSD can also cause unwanted intrusive thoughts and distressing memories or images of the traumatic situation that come to your mind at times you don’t want them to.

It can increase emotional and physical reactions, creating intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, trembling, or a rapid heartbeat, when reminded of what happened. 

Avoidance Symptoms:

This usually means avoiding triggers that are reminders of the experience. For example 

Avoiding people, places, activities, or situations that are related to the traumatic event.

As well as avoiding thoughts or feelings, thinking or talking about the traumatic event and associated emotions. It can cause you to change your behaviours and routines, such as after being in a major car accident, you may avoid being in a car afterwards. 

PTSD can be an emotionally numbing experience, leaving you feeling detached or estranged from others and those close to you. This makes you experience a limited range of emotions or feel emotionally numb.

Cognition and Mood:

After a traumatic event, you can begin to have negative thoughts and beliefs about yourself or the world, such as feelings of guilt, shame, or unworthiness.

You might even start to blame yourself or others for the traumatic event or the consequences it has had. 

You may even have memory problems and struggle to recall important aspects of the traumatic event or feeling as if parts of the event are missing.

It is also common to lose interest in activities you used to enjoy before the traumatic experience or social interactions. Leaving you feeling detached and emotionally disconnected from others or feeling as if your surroundings are unreal or unfamiliar.

Hyperarousal:

This is the feeling of constantly being on edge, alert, or watchful for signs of danger. Always feeling like something is about to happen, keeping you from being able to relax. With PTSD you may feel more sensitive or have more intense reactions. For example, when you hear an unexpected noise or sound you have an exaggerated startle response.

It is also quite common for people who suffer with PTSD to have increased irritability or aggression. You may be feeling easily irritated, angry, or prone to outbursts of anger that you feel you have no control of.

It can also affect your ability to concentrate. You may have difficulty focusing, paying attention, or staying present in the moment. You may also have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep.

Not everyone has these same symptoms of PTDS to the same extent or force. Every person’s experience with PTSD is unique to them.

 

What are the co-occurring conditions associated with PTSD

The Department of Veterans Affairs have reported that around 80% of people with PTSD have one or more additional mental health problems. This can make it harder to diagnose PTSD accurately. 

Depression:

Depression frequently coexists with PTSD, as both conditions involve symptoms such as persistent sadness, hopelessness, and losing interest in hobbies. People with PTSD may experience depressive symptoms as a result of the trauma and its aftermath.

Substance Use: 

People with PTSD are at an increased risk of developing substance use disorders, including alcohol abuse and drug addiction. Substance use may be used as a coping mechanism to numb painful emotions or avoid distressing memories associated with the trauma.

Anxiety Disorders: 

PTSD is linked to anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorders. Symptoms of anxiety, such as excessive worry, panic attacks, and avoidance behaviours, can overlap with those of PTSD.

Sleep Disorders:

 Sleep problems are common among those with PTSD and may include insomnia, nightmares, and sleep-related movement disorders such as restless legs syndrome (RLS). 

Dissociative Disorders: 

Dissociative disorders are a disconnection between you and your thoughts, memories, and emotions. This may co-occur with PTSD, particularly in cases of severe or prolonged trauma.

 

Learn about the types of counselling approaches for PTSD 

People diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can access a variety of talking therapy and PTSD counselling programmes.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is one of the most widely recommended and used treatments for PTSD. It focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs related to the traumatic event. CBT for PTSD often includes exposure therapy, where individuals gradually confront and process traumatic memories in a safe and controlled manner. With the therapist, you can learn breathing techniques to help manage your anxiety as well as cognitive restructuring techniques to address maladaptive beliefs about oneself, others, and the world.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a form of therapy that doesn’t involve talking with your therapist, which can be helpful to those who really struggle with speaking about their trauma. During this, you will think about your experiences while the therapist is doing an action such as hand tapping. EMDR aims to help you process traumatic memories and desensitize emotional reactions to them.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT): Is a modified version of CBT that helps children and adolescents with PTSD. It incorporates cognitive-behavioural techniques, such as exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring, with elements of family therapy and psychoeducation. TF-CBT aims to address both the child’s individual symptoms and the family’s functioning in the aftermath of trauma.

 

The importance of seeking help for PTSD

It is important to recognise that seeking help for PTSD can be an incredibly difficult step to take. So, it is important that you are ready and to take it at your own pace. 

Trauma can be life-changing; PTSD symptoms can significantly impact your daily functioning in different areas of your life, including work, relationships, and social activities. Seeking support can help you regain a sense of control over your life and take a step towards healing.

 

How therapy will help with long-term maintenance and relapse prevention

PTSD counselling can help you cope with the effects of the trauma.

PTSD therapy offers a safe and supportive environment where you can explore your experiences related to trauma without judgment or criticism. Therapists create a space where you can feel heard, understood, and validated, which can be empowering for survivors of trauma.

Sometimes, after a traumatic experience, it can be hard to actually grasp what has happened, making you feel quite detached from the event. Counselling for PTSD can help you to process traumatic memories. Many therapeutic approaches for PTSD, such as exposure therapy and EMDR, focus on helping you process traumatic memories in a controlled and safe manner. By revisiting and discussing the traumatic event in therapy, you can gradually reduce the emotional intensity and distress associated with these memories, leading to a decrease in PTSD symptoms.

A PTSD therapist will help you learn coping skills and techniques to manage PTSD symptoms, stress, and anxiety. These may include relaxation techniques, mindfulness practices, stress management strategies, and assertiveness training. Learning these skills teaches you to regulate your emotions and cope better with triggers and stressors.

A trauma therapist can also assist in addressing your avoidance behaviours. Therapy helps you to gradually confront and overcome avoidance behaviours that contribute to your PTSD symptoms. PTSD therapists support you in slowly reintroducing activities you have avoided, people such as friends or family members, and situations in a safe manner. This allows you to reclaim aspects of your lives that have been disrupted by trauma.

PTSD counselling can be used to improve your relationships by addressing personal difficulties to help improve your relationships with others. 

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD or have suffered a traumatic event and are looking for a private therapist to support you, you then contact My Solution Wellbeing, and one of our experienced therapists will be happy to speak with you. 

 

Written By Ria Kaur 

 

 

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By MSWB Team on 16/04/2024 in Resources

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