Don’t Panic - Plan
I wonder how your second week of online practice has been? NCS Registrant Suzie Mosson, a director of Online Training for Counsellors, has some expert advice for practitioners making this move. Whethe...
When people think about PTSD, they tend to picture troubled war veterans. However, PTSD is definitely not exclusive to members of the armed forces. People from all walks of life develop PTSD, from all kinds of situations.
PTSD can be a scary and debilitating condition, but finding a PTSD counsellor can help.
WHAT CAUSES PTSD?
PTSD may develop in 1 in 3 people who experience severely traumatic events. Traumatic events may include:
• Being in a scary accident
• Witnessing a nasty accident
• High-stress combat situations
• Physical abuse
• Emotional abuse
• Sexual abuse
• Being caught up in a natural disaster
• Being caught up in a terrorist incident
• The unexpected death of a loved one
It is important to note that this list contains examples of the kinds of things which might cause PTSD – it is not an exhaustive account of causes. Anything which causes intense stress, distress, and/or fear can bring on PTSD.
Some people have PTSD related to a single incident, while other sufferers’ conditions may be related to something more prolonged. For example, someone who was involved in a harrowing road accident may develop PTSD from that stress of that single event, while someone who was abused as a child may develop PTSD as a result of the prolonged and chronic stress they underwent.
PTSD is not usually related to events which may be sad or upsetting, but aren’t acutely traumatic. Losing a job, for example, is a stressful situation, but it doesn’t (usually!) cause the kind of traumatic shock which results in PTSD.
NOT ALL TRAUMA CAUSES PTSD
Witnessing or being involved in a traumatic event is very distressing for anyone. It’s very natural to be distressed if you’re scared, or hurt, or if you see someone else suffering. It would be a bit worrying if you weren’t upset by that kind of thing! It can even take quite a long time to recover from psychological trauma. Many people struggle with their feelings for weeks, or even for many, many months after a traumatic event. However, over time, the trauma will fade. They will regain their emotional equilibrium and sense of self.
PTSD is different. People with PTSD experience a deeper and more damaging level of trauma.
WHY DO SOME PEOPLE GET PTSD AND OTHERS DON'T?
Nobody really knows why some people develop PTSD from a certain situation, while others who have been in that very same situation do not. There is a bit of evidence from the military suggesting that training before traumatic events and counselling after traumatic events can both make a difference in whether or not a person t will go on to develop PTSD. But most of us aren’t in the armed forces.
In the case of civilians who experience a traumatic event together, it may well be that those who seek counselling for PTSD, or otherwise get support soon after the event are less likely to develop PTSD symptoms than those who try and go it alone. But we should also point out that any person’s experience of any event is very specific to their own personal context. Everyone experiences things with different levels of intensity, and this goes for traumatic events just as much as anything else. This doesn’t mean that some people are ‘weaker’ than others – far from it! PTSD does not discriminate according to character, and people with PTSD have to be immensely strong in order to withstand the rigours of the condition.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD wax and wane depending on the circumstances the sufferer finds themselves in. ‘Triggers’ which reminds the sufferer’s brain (often on an unconscious level) of the trauma they suffered will provoke an instinctive ‘fight or flight’ reaction as the PTSD tries to ‘protect’ the person from suffering a repeat of the initial trauma. This reaction can manifest in a number of ways, including:
• An intense physical reaction – elevated heartrate, nausea, sweating, muscle tension and so on.
• Anger or irritability.
• Lashing out.
• A desperate need to flee to a place which feels safe.
• Panic attacks.
• A feeling of ‘numbness’.
• Crying or tearfulness (which often seems irrational and unwarranted to others).
• Flashbacks. PTSD flashbacks are an extremely distressing phenomenon, in which the person re-experiences the trauma they went through.
PTSD is not only a problem when it is ‘triggered’, however. It can also have an impact on day to day life. PTSD sufferers are vulnerable to:
• Depressive moods.
• Substance abuse.
• Avoidant behaviours.
• Suicidal ideation.
• Mistrust and even dislike of others.
• Self-destructive behaviour.
• Reduced ability to function ‘acceptably’ in social situations.
• Pervasive feelings of shame, anger, sadness, and/or fear.
HOW CAN A COUNSELLOR HELP WITH PTSD?
As we mentioned above, most research carried out by the armed forces shows that counselling undertaken as soon as possible after a person experiences trauma can limit the impact of PTSD (and may possibly even prevent PTSD from developing at all). However, it is not always possible for traumatised people to get immediate counselling. Due to the ‘numbing’ effect of trauma, many people who are at risk of PTSD will be walking around in a ‘dazed’ state for some time after the trauma has occurred, and may not realise how badly they have been affected.
If you’ve been suffering for PTSD for some time, don’t worry. A counsellor can help with PTSD however well-established the condition is. An accredited counsellor can enable PTSD sufferers to overcome the trauma they have experienced. Counselling by an accredited professional will teach you techniques to soothe your brain and bypass its PTSD damage. While there is as yet no ‘cure’ for PTSD, seeking mental health help for PTSD can help you to reduce the symptoms of the condition enormously.
PTSD is a condition which robs sufferers of their quality of life, and disrupts their ability to connect with others. A PTSD counsellor can help to ease the symptoms of PTSD, and enable trauma survivors to move forward with their lives in a healthy and happy manner.