Treatment for and dealing with PTSD, Trauma and Phobias
There are two kinds of bad memories. Some fade slowly, so that a year or so later the memory of the car crash, or whatever it was, is no longer intrusive, and in time it goes away only to be recalled as an ordinary narrative memory about some unfortunate incident you once experienced.
Traumatic memories do not fade in the same way, and as time goes by they may become worse. These memories are usually connected with a life threatening or other serious event and are more deeply embedded in the brain as a 'survival template'. If they are not treated they may continue to fire off strong emotional reactions at inappropriate moments and thereby cause trouble for the rest of the sufferer's life.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Trauma, as a medical term, refers to any injury or wound violently inflicted on the body. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that often follows a terrifying physical, life threatening, or perceived as life-threatening, event. It causes the person who survived it to have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories, or flashbacks, of the ordeal. Persons with PTSD often feel chronically, emotionally numb. Once referred to as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue”. About 25 per cent of people involved in major traumatising events go on to develop long-term PTSD symptoms. This percentage rises if life-threatening incidents are almost constantly repeated, as in front line fighting during sustained battles in war.
What kinds of event can cause it?
Violent attacks on the person. Rape. Sustained verbally aggressive attacks. Sudden illness events like a heart attack. Traffic accidents. Industrial injuries. Witnessing sudden violent death, as in train crashes, bombings and war-zone incidents. Panic attacks where the person thinks he is dying. In fact, any event that triggers a strong fear (phobic) response can lead to PTSD. Children have even developed PTSD symptoms from watching horror films on TV.
What is a phobia?
Any uncontrolled, persistent, irrational fear that is accompanied by a compelling desire to avoid the object, activity, or situation that provokes the fear, is called a phobia. As far as the brain is concerned it is no different from PTSD. The same neuronal pathways are involved.
How do you know if you have traumatic memories?
Traumatic memories may cause any or all of the following problems: panic attacks, intrusive memories, nightmares, sudden irrational anger outbursts, depression and other unpleasant emotional states, even intense flashbacks where you actually hallucinate going through the terrible event again as if it were in the present. One sufferer who was traumatised by experiences in the Falklands War (who also experienced flashbacks) described it as “a constant, silent churning” in the back of his mind.
Why are PTSD memories different from the others?
In people suffering PTSD symptoms, the pattern of the memory is stored in a part of the brain called the Amygdala, which is responsible for ensuring our survival by triggering the 'flight or flight' response when something dangerous occurs. When something in the environment or in the sufferer's thinking matches the memory in the Amygdala, it sets off the alarm bells just as if the original incident were happening again. At the same time, other memories may be recalled very powerfully, bringing back the sights, smells, sounds and emotions from the original incident. The Amygdala has no sense of time, and does not know that the incident is in the past.
Is this a major problem?
Trauma is a problem for most GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists, all over the world. The continuing blizzard of news stories about the difficulty of living with PTSD shows how little effect the currently popular treatments have.
What is the human givens approach to treating trauma and phobias?
The amygdala has to learn that it is possible to visualise the incident without panicking, and the most reliable and least invasive way to do this is through the psychological method known as the 'rewind' technique. This technique is a refinement of one taught on NLP courses for many years. This is a guided imagery technique, which allows the brain to revisit the traumatic events in a dissociated way while being physically extremely calm, so that the amygdala can reinterpret the memory patterns as non-threatening.
The human givens version of the technique was refined, as a result of finding out why it worked. It is the HGI preferred method of treatment because, when properly delivered, it reliably relieves the nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks and intrusive memories.
Extensive clinical experience shows it to be a more cost effective and successful treatment than the treatments recommended by NICE guidelines, namely EMDR and CBT that take many sessions and are often only partially successful.
Treatment is safe (unlike critical incident debriefing for example, which research shows may increase rates of PTSD).
Treatment is non-voyeuristic (It is suitable for victims of sexual assault, beating or any kind of humiliation, as the victim do not have to tell the therapist details what happened.)
Treatment is fast.
How long does it take?
In our experience of thousands of cases, people with a single-incident trauma are almost invariably detraumatised in one session, with one follow-up to check that all is well. Where the case is more complex the trauma is still normally resolved in one session, but there is often more work to do to help the patient catch up with things that they missed out on while in the traumatised state; build confidence or lift out of a depression or anger disorder created by the suffering. Even so, the aim is to keep the therapy as brief as possible to give volition back to the patient as soon as possible.
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Explore our articles and interviews
In the first of what will become an annual feature, Ian Thomson, deputy chair of the HGI’s Registration and Professional Standards Committee (RPSC), shares learning points from cases presented within the past year for adjudication or advice.
Ivan Tyrrell talks to Anne Glyn-Jones author of "Holding up a Mirror" about the dynamics of history that eventually lead to the destruction of security, prosperity and artistic achievement.
Read about how a Faulklands war veteran overcame the severe flashbacks and panic attacks he suffered for 20 years after a horrifically traumatising experience during his service in the navy.
Miriam Chachamu explains why she is always mindful of those who are not in the therapy room.
Keith Abrahams describes how applying the human givens approach to his business has boosted both morale and productivity.
James Tapper suggests that Charles Dickens’s famous seasonal novel contains much that reflects the human givens approach to therapy.
Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell introduce a biologically-based theory which explains the shortcomings of purely cognitive approaches and why effective therapies can work fast.
Much more is gained from hearing and telling stories, rather than just reading them, says Pat Williams.
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