August 4, 2014

PTSD/trauma – adults

PTSD-vancouverPost-traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious condition which requires treatment as soon as it’s identified. It is completely treatable, meaning people can recover fully from the symptoms of trauma. They may never forget the events that caused such an intense reaction, but they needn’t live as though the memories are real.

PTSD is considered a mental illness, albeit temporary, caused by experiencing an event or situation which is beyond the capacity of everyday coping mechanisms to handle. An event or ongoing experience that is perceived to be unstoppable and life-threatening overwhelms a person’s defenses and causes feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and impending death. When a person feels this level of distress, their brain is literally flooded by “survival” chemicals. This state of survival does not end until the person perceives that the threat is over. In the case of PTSD, the threat is perceived to continue long after the event has passed.

Traumatic events happen to all of us at some point in our lives. We all feel traumatized to some degree by the misfortunes of life. Intense trauma reactions happen when our coping strategies are overloaded and we are unable to process the negative event. PTSD can arise from various and wide ranging events, depending on the person experiencing them. Events such as murder of a loved one, rape, politically motivated violence, witnessing violence, childhood abuse, car accidents, loss of a loved one or child, terminal illness, working as a police officer or fire fighter, being involved in military action, and more, have potential to cause Post-traumatic Stress in the healthiest of people.

Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive experiences such as nightmares, disturbing daydreams or flashbacks. These are sudden and feel difficult to control. Often a person may feel as though they are reliving the trauma. A typical example would be the inability to sleep due to nightmares about the event, months after the event has happened. Other symptoms include a tendency to avoid places, people or reminders of the event. Assault victims may refuse to go out at night or back to the location of the assault.  Car accident victims may feel unable to get behind the wheel of a car. Victims of terrorist attacks may choose to move their homes to a new city.  PTSD symptoms also include a state of hyperarousal of the nervous system. This can manifext as the inability to sleep, to eat, or to concentrate, a pervasive feeling of agitation or anxiety. or a hightened startle reflex.

People suffering from PTSD often find it extremely difficult to live with the symptoms. Most struggle with feelings of guilt and anger, shame, confusion and fear of sharing disturbing experiences with others. PTSD can be isolating and disturbing in itself. Most people find a way to soothe themselves, through drugs or alcohol, some develop secondary conditions such as depression, or substance addiction, and some may find it difficult to keep  job and family intact.

PTSD symptoms can be eased with medications for anxiety, depression and sleep, and together with counselling, sufferers can find relief. PTSD is best treated with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. This involves a well researched protocol of counselling therapy designed to quickly and effectively desensitize the heightened feelings associated with the trauma, and re-organize and integrate the memories into a meaningful place in life through shifting cognitive appraisals of the event (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy). 

Megan Hughes is fully certified in the use of EMDR for PTSD. She has treated clients suffering from PTSD arising from many sources, including but not limited to car accidents, terrorist attack, childhood abuse, assault, loss of a child, rape, witnessing violence toward animals, incest, and severe neglect.

If you think you may have PTSD, or if you have a loved-one you are worried about, contact Stillwater Studio, or contact a Mental Health office near you. Learn more about PTSD so you know what to expect, what is normal and how to approach it.