Trauma and PTSD: How to get help without talking about it
If you’ve been traumatised and can’t talk about it, some therapies could help without the need to describe what happened.
Why some people need to talk about trauma
For many people, describing traumatic incidents and exploring their emotional responses to them, such as shock, anger or shame, is a key part of their healing process.
Understanding why you feel the way you do about it, helps the brain to categorise the memory and store it accordingly. Coming to terms with what happened in a way that makes sense to you (eg. it was a random accident/the perpetrator was responsible, not me).
When this happens (with or without therapy) over time, your brain files the traumatic memory in ‘unpleasant experiences’ somewhere in the ‘past’ section.
This is what humans do naturally, with their friends, loved ones and peers, which is why not everyone who experiences a traumatic event, goes on to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Many clients heal from trauma this way and it’s important not to dismiss the importance of talking therapy for those who need this approach. In fact, denying someone the ability to talk through their trauma, would be as unhelpful as trying to make someone talk who doesn’t want to!
What if you don’t want to talk about PTSD?
For some, especially those with PTSD, the thought of describing what happened can be overwhelming and understandably, they avoid going anywhere near the subject. These people are very unlikely to seek help, for fear of being re-traumatised by reliving the experience. Thankfully, there are ways therapy can help, without the need to explain the trauma in detail, or to go over it again and again.
Two types of therapy that can be conducted without detailed disclosure are; rewind technique, which this article focuses on, and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). Both types can reduce or stop PTSD symptoms such as heightened anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, anger outbursts and low mood.
You can ask your therapist if they’re able to offer either method without full details of the trauma. I also recommend that you read up on EMDR, so you can decide which may suit you best.
I use both rewind and EMDR for trauma and they’re both very effective, but I find the rewind technique faster and easier for clients to tolerate. With the rewind technique, there is no need for clients to describe the traumatic details, just a few things like whether it happened to them, someone else, or they attended or heard about it afterwards.
The rewind technique involves visualizing yourself watching (from a distance, to detach yourself) a film of the traumatic event/s and then very quickly going into the film at the end and feeling yourself going backwards, as it’s rewound at high speed. There are some aspects that are vital to get right, and you will be taught how to achieve this during the sessions. It’s a bit more involved than I’ve described here, for simplicity’s sake, so it’s important not to try to do it without a therapist, as you don’t want to end up reliving it, or getting stuck without support.
How does it work?
The jury is out on the neuroscience of precisely how it works. Most research points towards something called memory reconsolidation – whereby the memory, which has been stuck on a loop, in the part of the brain responsible for emergency response, gets filed properly (in unpleasant, past).
A traumatic memory can’t be filed in the past until it’s been processed and made safe to access, so it stays under something like: ‘current, urgent!’ until we teach the brain that it can be accessed without the alarm going off and survival mode kicking in. This is why even thinking about it can feel terrifying or unbearable for those with PTSD. Reconsolidation allows you to access the memory without it having an impact.
How long does it take?
This depends on the complexity of each case, but for a single event (one-off) trauma, between two to six sessions, maximum, should be effective. This allows for proper assessment and scoring of the impact before and after treatment, as well as repeating the process as required.
Will it definitely work?
No therapy is 100% effective for everyone. The emerging research on rewind therapy is promising, with high success rates, but your therapist will assess whether it’s suitable for you before recommending it.
There’s growing scientific evidence that it works – and that it works in one of the hardest to reach populations – veteran soldiers.
In the US several studies show that a rewind based therapy is extremely effective in an adapted version, called the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memory protocol, or RTM. There are two clinical trials in the UK due out this year, one testing the effectiveness of rewind technique and one testing the RTM protocol.
A final thought
If not wanting to describe your experience has prevented you from getting help, I hope knowing that there are options for you, means you may consider finding support.