It's normal for people who have experienced trauma in war, natural disasters, life threatening accidents, violence or childhood abuse, to name a few, to develop PTSD. And we know that PTSD has been around through most, if not all, of human history. We just didn't recognize it as such.
Especially interesting is the long term effect that trauma has on the brain. Recent neuroscience research has shown that childhood trauma, whether through abuse or other events, causes changes in brain cells that can be genetically passed down up to four generations. In other words, anxiety can be inherited in the absence of any trauma in the offspring.
Trauma and PTSD are way to complicated to adequately address in one blog post so I'll talk about a few effective treatment methods currently in use and mention some other techniques as well. First off, seek professional help! Symptoms may develop immediately, weeks, months or even years later. The sooner it's addressed, the better the outcome.
And YOU'RE NOT CRAZY! I do a lot of "normalizing" in explaining to clients that their reactions are normal reactions to extremely abnormal events. They usually find this helpful to know. Find a therapist who's experienced and specializes in treating trauma and PTSD. Sometimes just talking about the experience rather than stuffing it is helpful. People who experience trauma are often reluctant to talk about it for fear of being seen as weak, crazy or just not understood. I think this is especially true of combat vets whose experiences may be so horrible they remain quiet about them for this reason. I love working with vets and because of my own experiences I can relate to them and they feel more comfortable opening up. Sometimes this alone is enough to help them start to heal.
So here are a few techniques that are used for treating PTSD. And remember, one size doesn't fit all. It may be necessary to try different approaches. And whatever the treatment approach, it's necessary that there's a safe, supportive and understanding environment for trauma telling.
1. EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION REPROCESSING (EMDR)
A number of studies have concluded that EMDR is the most effective means of treating trauma and PTSD as well as anxiety and it has been applied to survivors of diverse traumatic experiences across a wide range of ages. Clients are instructed to think of the disturbing event while following the therapist's hand held about 12" away and moving back and forth across their field of vision. It's sometimes done with moving lights as well. Eventually disturbing memories of the event are erased or lessened in intensity.
2. THOUGHT FIELD THERAPY (TFT)
Simply described, with their fingers the client taps points on the face, chest and hand while thinking about the trauma and measuring their level of distress. They repeat this process while repeating self-affirming statements to themselves as the distress level decreases. Like EMDR, it's been shown to be very effective and clients receive immediate and long-term relief. Another benefit is that it can be taught to nearly everyone so that people can treat themselves. And it doesn't require clients to talk about their troubles which may cause more emotional pain and discourage further treatment seeking. I used this with a former Marine who had been through some horrific door-to-door combat in Iraq (I was hesitant to suggest it thinking he might think it was too weird) and he later said it was the most helpful thing we did. Like EMDR we don't really know exactly the mechanics of why TFT is helpful in treating trauma but it has been shown to be effective with long-term results.
3. THE REWIND TECHNIQUE or "The Six-Minute Movie"
This requires the individual sitting and relaxing all their muscle groups and then beginning to project the image of the traumatic event up onto a big imagined movie screen, running it forward in real time. And then running it backwards, speeding it up and pulling the color out of it. During the rewind the person experiences themselves actually in the film, the sights, sounds, smells. This process is done repeatedly and faster for several times. Following this exercise, people often report feeling less anxious and are surprised at how well they acted during the event. The overall benefit seems to be the lessening of intensity, distress and frequency of thoughts about the event. I have found this method to be very effective and used it to help people who were peripherally involved and traumatized by the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords here in Tucson in 2011.
4. PROLONGED EXPOSURE THERAPY
This is the last technique I'll describe (although not the last of the various treatment methods for trauma and PTSD) which has been used by our VA hospitals and the Isreali army with good results. In a therapeutic setting the individual describes the trauma in as much detail as possible while recording it. They repeat the telling over and over during several sessions as well as listening to the recording at home. Obviously, this is very intense and painful at first and needs to be done in a safe and therapeutic setting. By repetition the effect of the trauma is increasingly diluted to where it's no longer troublesome and now manageable. It's sort of like repeating a word over and over until it loses its meaning.
By no means are these all the ways of treating trauma and PTSD and often the simple the combination of time and talking about the event with a supportive, non-judgemental listener, professional or otherwise, is sufficient for people to move past the trauma and on with their lives. So if you've experienced a traumatic event and feel you're not getting over it, by all means seek professional help from someone who specializes in treating these problems.
If you have health insurance hopefully they can provide a list of contracted providers in your area with this specialty. Another good and free resource online is Psychologytoday.com. Click on 'Find a therapist' and put in your zip code. It will bring up a list of providers with their photo, problems they treat, a brief bio and fees and insurance plans they accept. It's a great resource and I highly recommend it. Lastly, The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook by Glenn Schiraldi, PhD, is full of many simple (some of which I stole here) and effective tools for healing from trauma. And, of course, it's on THEFEARMONSTER's Banned Book List. See you next time.
Next Time: THE GRATEFUL HEAD--MINDFUL GRATITUDE