Facts about Trauma & PTSD Treatment
Why some therapy methods can be re-traumatising
This article was written initially by Venka de Rooij for Mad World Summit magazine to highlight the danger of re-traumatising therapy like counselling. For this very reason, Venka uses non-traumatising methods that are gentle, mostly non-verbal, and highly effective. People can be trauma-free in very few sessions.
What is the difference between trauma and PTSD?
When you think of trauma or PTSD, instances of extreme violence may spring to mind. Maybe you associate trauma or PTSD primarily with war veterans, abuse survivors, or victims of serious crimes. You may find it hard to believe someone who has lived an “ordinary” life can experience or suffer from the effects of trauma or PTSD.
What causes trauma & PTSD?
Trauma can be caused by an incident in which you experience fear, helplessness, and horror - an assault, an accident, the sudden death of a loved one, severe bullying, or a traumatic medical procedure. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatised. Unsurprisingly, 1 in 2 people experience trauma at some point in their life, and around 20% of those will develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
How can trauma affect your life?
As a psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist, I see many people who are seeking help with anxiety, depression, overeating, insomnia, chronic illness, unstable relationships, or addictions.
Often reminders of the trauma are ignored by either consciously suppressing memories or unconsciously repressing them through by distractions. Distractions can be food, work, alcohol, drinks, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling, internet, or computer games. Trauma often anchors people in the past without allowing them to understand why they continue to have certain feelings and why they behave the way they do. So you feel stuck.
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is a more extreme version of trauma.
- intense emotions
- anger outbursts
- panic attacks
- tense muscles
- withdrawal from specific places or people
You may be reliving the event via vivid flashbacks or nightmares. You may experience emotional numbing, feeling detached, or hopeless. Or you may or try to actively avoid places, people, or thoughts that remind you of the traumatic event. You may always be scanning surroundings for signs of danger, have difficulty concentrating or focusing, feel irritable, have anger outbursts, have sleeping difficulties, or feel guilty about the event.
Physical symptoms of trauma & PTSD:
- agitation or excitability
- heart palpations
The effects of trauma and PTSD can be devastating as it can affect your ability to study, work, or hold down a job.
PTSD is not a mental health disorder; it is a psychological injury.
When trauma occurs, the Hippocampus – the part of the brain that helps process memories – doesn't time-stamp the memory as an event from the past. In other words, the traumatic event causes a filing error to take place in the person's memory.
To explain this, let's think of a 'to be filed' document tray. You've been too busy to complete all your filing one day, so you drop it in the tray. Each day you're too busy to do that filing, but the overflowing tray reminds you it needs to be done, and it makes you anxious. When you finally try to do the filing, you realise there are no reference numbers, you don't know who to ask for help, and you can't read the documents, so back it goes in the tray. This cycle will continue until you ask someone for help. Someone who understands the documents and knows where they should be filed, or at the very least, can help you find out what you need to know to file them correctly.
Why traditional counselling is re-traumatising
One of the first steps you may try to recover from PTSD is talking therapy. However talking therapy or counselling, where you are consciously engaged in discussing traumatic memories or experiences, can actually re-traumatise you. This makes sense, as talking through a traumatic event also makes you relive it. Talking reinforces the neurological pathways involved with the fight and flight response, leading the brain to sense that the past threat is still present now.
A new intellectual understanding may be accomplished by discussing the event, but the brain is unable to process this new perception. So when this happens, it will revert to its dysfunctional ‘threat’ patterns.
A non re-traumatising treatment for trauma and PTSD
So how can you work through PTSD and trauma without talking about the event itself? To reprocess traumatic memories, I use clinical hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and a treatment known as Bi Lateral Analysis Stimulation Technique (BLAST), a more supportive, faster and less clinical version of the more well-known EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) psychotherapy technique.
BLAST belongs to a group of new treatments called Amygdala Depotentation/Desensitising Techniques (ADTs). These treatments are largely non-verbal and therefore non re-traumatising. These are a gentle yet extremely effective treatment. Using repeated right-left (bilateral) stimulation of the brain, clients review aspects of the traumatic memory while tracking my back and forth light-pen movements with their eyes. The combination of bilateral stimulation and other psychotherapy techniques provides new insights and understanding and replaces negative thoughts with positive ones. BLAST stimulates the Hippocampus to ‘time-stamp’ the memory. So the brain can file the memory correctly. Once the trauma is processed correctly, the intense emotions disappear and the traumatic event becomes a distant memory.