Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that develops after experiencing
traumatic events. PTSD was initially acknowledged in soldiers and war veterans, commonly referred
to as ‘shell shock’ , however it has since been found that a wide range of traumatic experiences
can lead to the development of the condition. For example, being involved in a life-threatening
event such as a car crash, being abused or bullied, being sexually assaulted, experiencing or
witnessing violence in war zones or working in emergency services, traumatic childbirth and
traumatic bereavement can all lead to the development of PTSD. Symptoms can include flashbacks
to the event, feeling numb, feeling anxious or a heightened sense of danger as well as disturbed
sleep. Initially after a traumatic incident these may be signs of an ‘acute stress reaction’ .
However, when these symptoms last for longer than a month, they may be a sign of PTSD.
When we are in situations that cause high stress, an automatic reaction called the fight-or-flight
response is triggered in the body ; hormones called cortisol and adrenaline are released, which
create conditions that prepare the body to react to a potential threat. It has been found that
individuals with PTSD will continue to produce cortisol and adrenaline even after they are no longer
in danger – which can explain why they may remain hypervigilant and/or easily startled even after
an event has occurred . Some people who experience symptoms of PTSD also experience physical symptoms similar to those found in people with anxiety, such as body aches, sweating, nausea, trembling, dizziness, or chest pains . Some further emotional and cognitive symptoms include emotional volatility, disturbed sleep, or difficulty concentrating.
Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event can cause a temporary automatic shutdown of some
bodily functions in favour of others – for example, memory processing is often put on hold to allow
for a focus on the physical fight-or-flight response to a threat . This means that the ability to
process and understand traumatic events as they are happening is overpowered by the physical
need to tackle or get away from the source of danger. Because of this, the experiences of the trauma
– emotions, as well as any sensations of touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight – do not get encoded
correctly as memories into the brain. This means that when an individual with PTSD experiences
something that reminds them of the trauma this can trigger a flashback. These are experienced as
vivid intrusive thoughts and images as well as nightmares which create a sense that the past event is
real and happening right now. For this reason, people with PTSD can feel as though they are reliving
their trauma over and over, which can be very distressing.
Having PTSD can make it extremely difficult to go about daily life, as the symptoms can severely
interfere with the ability to look after oneself, to maintain a job, friendships, or relationships. The
symptoms can cause individuals with PTSD to try consciously and subconsciously to avoid the
feelings and memories associated to their trauma by blocking out memories, becoming emotionally
and physically numb or detached.
However, it has been shown that PTSD can be successfully treated even many years after the
traumatic event(s) occurred . Psychological therapies are usually recommended initially to treat
PTSD, but sometimes a combination of therapy and medication may be required for cases of severe
or persistent PTSD. One therapy that is commonly used is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT);
Trauma-focused CBT can help people come to terms with their trauma and cope with the negative
thoughts and feelings by working with the therapist to process the memories and the meanings
attached to the memories in a helpful way that can reduce the fear and distress caused by their
experience . Another treatment that has been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD is Eye
Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). During EMDR sessions, the therapist will work
with the individual by directing their eye movements as they recall the traumatic experience, which
allows the brain to reprocess the traumatic memory .
Here at Surrey Therapy Practice, we have a team of experienced psychologists and CBT Therapists
who offer CBT and EMDR for PTSD in Banstead and online. If you think you or someone you know
has PTSD, get in contact and make an enquiry here.