Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What is PTSD?
PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in other words, the stress you feel after you have experienced a trauma. A trauma is just another name for a scary or upsetting experience.
The word 'trauma' can be used for some very extreme circumstances, like war, rape, serious car accidents, abuse, robbery, muggings or natural disasters, but therapists also use it for more day to day situations like a nasty argument or relationship breakup, a disaster at work, a spider falling on your head and making you jump, or receiving really bad news. Sometimes hearing about people experiencing this type of event can be enough to make you react to them - for example, watching a film about an earthquake or terrorist events on the TV news.
Just about everyone who experiences a trauma reacts to it by becoming more anxious, worried or scared for a while. For most of us the feelings fade with time, but for some people, this doesn't happen. They continue to react as if they (or others around them) are in danger, or to feel that their stress or anxiety is out of control. Anything which reminds them of the trauma is likely to create very high levels of bad feelings and they'll try to avoid it. They may start to feel guilty or to stop doing things they used to enjoy. Some people seem to get over the event at first, but the feelings return later.
If these symptoms continue for more than a month or so, you may have PTSD, although only a GP or other medical professional can diagnose this for certain.
EMDR and PTSD
One of the therapies which have been found to be effective in helping people with PTSD is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprogramming). You can find out more about studies which have been done on its effectiveness HERE.
We're not sure exactly how EMDR works, but there are theories. We do know the left and right hemispheres (sides) of the brain control different elements of our experiences. For example, the right-hand side is visual, emotional and intuitive whilst the left-hand side is more verbal and analytical.
When we experience life events, we receive them first in the right-hand side of the brain. If the event is not particularly important or emotional (like buying a sandwich for your lunch) it quickly passes across into the left side of the brain where it becomes a memory. We can recall it if we want to, but when we do we understand it is part of our past.
If we experience a scary or emotional event (say someone robs the sandwich shop at gunpoint while we are there) the right-hand side of the brain hangs onto that experience and kicks off production of a group of stress hormones, like adrenaline, which makes us react quickly to save ourselves in the emergency. It's thought that sometimes the event is not passed across to the left brain properly (or at all). This is why when we're reminded of the event it feels as if it was happening again right now. This is when the feelings start to intrude into your day to day life and become a problem.
EMDR involves techniques which are thought to encourage the event being processed more normally so it becomes just a memory. These techniques are simple and non-intrusive, such as following a light with your eyes while you think about the situation which is giving you problems. Afterwards, you still remember the event but the emotional reaction is much less powerful and may not be there at all.
Some people say this works because the eye movement mimics REM, the way our eyes flicker when we are dreaming; dreaming is thought to be one way in which we naturally process our experiences. Another theory is that the movements encourage both halves of the brain to be active so the message passes more easily from one to the other. Either way, PTSD has a good record of working with this type of issue.
What can EMDR be used for?
Any vivid memory, intrusive thought or emotion which is causing you problems. This means I don't just use it for PTSD but also for phobias, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), cravings (for food or cigarettes) and other similar issues.
You will generally need around four sessions which will combine EMDR with either coaching or hypnotherapy to reinforce the effect and ensure it lasts. If your original trauma was very severe or if you have multiple traumas you may need more sessions. Please ask me for more information.
If you think you may have a medical condition such as PTSD or OCD you should start by going to your GP for a proper diagnosis. Otherwise (or afterwards) contact me