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Let's talk about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

A turning point in mental health research took place in 1980 when a new diagnosis called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was created. It describes a clusters of symptoms by giving a name to those individuals who were overwhelmed by horror and helplessness. A radical change was set in a further understanding of neuroscience.

PTSD is often a condition attributed to war veterans however, experiencing trauma can happen to anyone. Trauma varies in its form; witnessing a fatal accident, someone drowning, and a dog bite to more severe cases of abuse, neglect and torture.

Since the early 1990s, scan images have started to show what is happening inside the brains of those inflicted by traumatizing experiences. Trauma appears to be an ongoing imprint of consequences left in our body, mind and brain.

When remembering an ordinary event, we do not necessarily recollect the physical sensation, emotions, images or smells associated with it. In contrast, those who have been traumatised relive their experience in the present tense.The trauma itself is “triggered” back into the memory by external images, smells and sounds, called flashbacks. Those flashbacks contain unprocessed fragments of traumatic memory; they burst back into consciousness leaving the individual feeling their heart pounding, stomach sinking, a rush of adrenaline running through their muscles ready to fight or flee. Seemingly they lose touch with reality, often mistaking people in their present with people there and then. At the time of trauma, the individual experience a “dissociation from the body”. This particularly happens with survivors of sexual abuse, they talk about their experience during trauma of having an “out of body experience”. The technical reason is due to a decrease of blood flow in two separate part of the brain.

How can therapy help?

The initial assessment with the therapist is to evaluate the clients needs according to the type of trauma. Assessing PTSD also involves the duration of symptoms and its treatment. Here, relaxation techniques and grounding techniques can help at first. An intervention of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be followed by yoga breathing, positive repetitive statements and the use of objects relations to lower the anxiety scale. The therapist will help the client to reconnect with their inner identity, self-validation, creating an anchor of associations with positive and negative thoughts to reconcile their inner balance. The aim is to focus the attention here and now.

It is highly effective to channel the body to the main perception of the senses, to provide the client with soothing skills. Mindfulness meditation can be incorporated in the therapy itself.

The client can learn to control and change their behaviour, but only if they feel safe and the therapy is based on the trust between therapist and client. The therapist is there to help the client work through their distress; the body keeps the score. The client will be able to learn and develop an emotional window of tolerance and regulation skills which lay the path toward recovery.

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