top of page


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’ [1], 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’ [2].

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 [3]; 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 [4]. 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 [4]. 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 [5]. 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 [6]. 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 [6]. 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 [7].

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.



bottom of page