Terror in the Brain - PTSD
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Andrew Richardson - Feelbetter Counselling
8th August, 2008
Post traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD)
Once known as shell shock, or battle fatigue syndrome, because of the enormous incidence of this condition in association with soldiers and victims of war, it is now understood that a far wider section of the community is affected by this terrifying condition. When a person is exposed to a traumatic event where there is a perception of threatened death or serious injury, either to self or others and where the person’s response involved fear, helplessness, horror or, as is often the case with children, disorganised or agitated behaviour, it is likely that a up to 25% of people will develop the symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms may include recurrent intrusive thoughts of the event, flashbacks, hallucinations or nightmares. The person may feel as though he is reliving the experience on a regular basis and the fight and flight response may be fired off very easily by the least stimulus that in some way is connected, however remotely, with the original event. This in turn may result in all sorts of avoidance strategies to try to diminish the feelings of terror. The person may avoid places or people that arouse the memories.
The memory may even shut down and the person may be left with feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, even loved ones. There may be a generally pessimistic outlook about the future and the continual firing of the fight and flight response can result in chronic depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleeplessness, outbursts of anger and a host of other symptoms.
We now understand that people can become traumatized to a very wide range of events including events perceived in the imagination. The grandchildren of the victims of concentration camps have been traumatized through the recollections of their grandparents. Car crashes, train crashes, sexual abuse, witnessing of suicide attempts, muggings, being the subject of bullying or any other repetitive abuse or criticism can result in some or all of the symptoms of PTSD becoming established.
Unfortunately, many of the techniques used up to recently, such as critical incident debriefing after disasters, have been shown to not just be ineffective but actually to deepen the trauma in some victims. In fact, attempts to urge the victim to relive the experience through talking about it can often be the worst thing one could do as it can actually strengthen the memory.
To understand the process involved in establishment of PTSD in the brain we need to go back millions of years to our ancestors wandering on the African Savannah. In order to ensure our survival from the many life threatening predators all around us we needed a method to help us read danger. We needed protection from the immediate event but we also needed a way to be able to rapidly read information from the environment to know when or where threats lurked in the future. Our very existence depended on it. If we were to use the thinking part of our brains the delay may be too long before we reacted and we may be lunch for the lion. Nature gave us the gift of a rapid response mechanism built into our subconscious. This ability to scan the environment for real or perceived threat, below the level of conscious thought is also our weakness for some (probably about 25%) of us. It is as though our rapid response mechanism just never learns to switch off or it switches on with the minimum of stimulus. The stimulus may often have a very remote connection with the original threatening event.
Working with a new understanding of the biological basis of this disorder, Human Givens therapists use a highly effective method called the rewind technique to treat this debilitating condition. This simple and straightforward technique involves changing the effects of the memories associated with the traumatic event in the brain. This results in turning the traumatic memory into an ordinary memory that can be filed away in the brain appropriately. This method is being used daily up and down the country now by those trained in this approach to bring relief to people who have often been trapped with PTSD symptoms for many years.
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