Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment and trauma counselling

How to deal with post-trauma stress

If you're suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) your recovery depends on a number of factors. I'm so glad you've landed here, because I really hope to be able to help you understand your options.

Research shows that a good social support network helps to set you up for a better recovery*. However, that's not the whole story. All too often the family and friends of a traumatised individual suffer too. They may feel that they have, in a sense, 'lost' the person they once knew.

It can certainly help when friends, family and colleagues understand the condition and offer you the support that you feel you need. What do you do, though, if you don't have - or can't access (for whatever reason) - that kind of support?

I'm here with you to guide you in the right direction. The information on these pages will hopefully help you to choose the right treatment for you - even if you have PTSD symptoms that haven't met the criteria for full-blown PTSD. Very often someone might think that they're suffering from PTSD due to what they're experiencing. However, in a sense the exact label only matters if your getting access to treatment depends on that label. It's more likely that you're experiencing post-traumatic stress of some sort, without it matching the exact requirements for the diagnosis. That can be just as debilitating though.

What PTSD treatments are there?

Professionals can play an important part in reducing your stress and sense of isolation right from the start - through support, advice and trauma counselling.

It'll be hugely reassuring if your doctor or other health professional has a good understanding of post-traumatic stress (unfortunately that's not guaranteed). It's even more useful if he or she can communicate that in a sympathetic manner.

You would also want him/her to be active in getting you appropriate help as soon as possible, rather than prescribing any medication. The outcome of that first contact needs to be an early referral to the right kind of counsellor or therapist. The psychotherapist, counsellor or psychologist should have a good understanding of trauma/PTSD and will need to be experienced in trauma counselling. Expertise in this area varies considerably, so don't make any assumptions. Your therapist needs to have specific skills to treat your condition and its symptoms.

I personally use a trauma focused technique with imaginary exposure in line with the NICE guidelines - see further down this page for more information on this.

(If you a professional - learn more about the REWIND TECHNIQUE.)

What kind of counselling for PTSD is effective?

During the first two to three months following the trauma, any (trauma) counselling should only focus on the traumatic event(s). No ‘general’ counselling should be offered. This is also the case when you feel overwhelmed by memories of a trauma even years after it happened.

During those initial weeks and months, your counsellor or therapist should ideally explain to you...

... how your PTSD symptoms have come about
... what happens in the brain
... how trauma counselling encourages and supports the natural healing process.

Have you tried counselling before but didn't find it helpful? I totally understand if this has left you feeling frustrated, let down, angry and depressed. You must keep searching for the right treatment for you though.

In the meantime I recommend you have a look at self-hypnosis downloads - they can help you feel little more in control of your own healing.

Dealing with 'emotional trauma'

Some people feel emotionally traumatised. Perhaps you do, for example because of...

  • the death of someone close to you
  • the disclosure of an affair
  • a loved-one's suicide attempt
  • Birth Trauma
  • a medical treatment
  • an accident
  • any other life-changing event

Your counsellor should engage you in deciding what would be most helpful for you at this time. The healing process runs along much the same track as for any other psychological trauma. Therefore, immediately after a life-changing event an initial focus on calming you down and helping you to relax and sleep would be most beneficial.

A sudden relationship crisis can feel terribly traumatic. If you're in the midst of such a crisis, then I recommend you start with my page Save Your Marriage.  

If your partner has just left you or is about to leave you, I'd also like to help you to find out right now what you should and shouldn't be doing about that, so do have a look at The Magic of Making Up.

The human givens approach

I personally use the 'human givens approach' to therapy.  It includes a non-intrusive technique for trauma and phobias.

However, I do also use the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), which are not part of the human givens approach.

I have good results with all three approaches. I use whichever method is most acceptable to my client and I switch if and when necessary. This is always with my client's understanding, acceptance and agreement.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and EMDR for the treatment of trauma. (The video further down the page has more info on this.)

Energy psychology/medicine such as EFT is not so much recognised in 'conventional' arenas. I've used it successfully during telephone counselling, though on the whole I wouldn't choose to use telephone counselling with someone who has suffered severe trauma.

Trauma focused technique with imaginal exposure

With this technique the counsellor/therapist will help you to relax deeply, before you access the trauma on a imaginary screen - several times over (but so fast you barely notice the detail).

This allows your memory to be 'recoded'. You're exposed to the trauma whilst your body and mind are as relaxed as possible and therefore the memory changes - it no longer has the same impact.

(I understand completely that you may be thinking there's no hope that you'd be able to relax. However, you may just be surprised ...)

There's a specific protocol and your therapist should be well-trained in the method. The therapist aims to keep you as calm as possible throughout the treatment. The method and procedures ensure that any discomfort, fear or any heightened state of emotional arousal is kept as short and as manageable as possible.

A version of this technique was first described by Milton Erickson. Over the years a number of adaptations have been made to this method, initially by Richard Bandler (originator of NLP).

More recently it's been refined by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell of the Human Givens College. It's now much more acceptable for clients, particularly for those who would rather not talk about the traumatic event.

'Imaginary exposure' and guided imagery

A single event trauma can, in principle, be treated in a single session. However, I tailor the number of sessions to what's right for a particular client.

It's far more important to get it absolutely right, rather than just to do it quickly. During the first session I'd help you feel at ease and settle into the treatment. Then we'd find out what exactly the best approach is for you to be able to feel at ease as much as possible.

You wouldn't necessarily need to talk about what happened, unless you'd like to verbalise the details. I could help you just the same.

After the initial sessions to treat the trauma, it may be necessary to have some further sessions. This depends very much on how long you've suffered and how you've adapted to allow yourself to carry on 'managing' those upsetting memories. Often too, there are other traumatic events underlying the apparently single event.

During imaginary exposure in CBT you'll be asked to re-experience the trauma and be exposed to the event during a greater number of sessions. Depending on the type of therapy you receive, you may be asked to talk at length during the weekly sessions about what happened.

The following video comments on what exactly NICE might mean about trauma focused treatment...

Can Post Traumatic Stress be cured?

When you suffer from PTSD or post trauma symptoms of any kind, recovery can seem a long way off and you may feel scared that you're never going to be well again.  

Know that recovery is possible and very likely! What happened, though, will always remain part of your life story and to some extent it'll be painful like any 'ordinary' memory of a difficult situation.

However, the degree to which you're distressed and disturbed by those horrible post-traumatic symptoms can be much reduced. And people are even cured of all of the symptoms - over time and with or without professional treatment.

The right psychotherapists/counsellors can offer really good treatments for PTSD. Counselling for PTSD will help you to overcome your symptoms. It'll also ensure that you adapt in a positive and healthy way to changes that have happened as a result of the psychological trauma. I really encourage you to do all you can to find someone who can help you as soon as possible.

Regardless of what treatment you choose or are offered, it's vital that you have built a good rapport with your therapist. You need to feel safe and completely trust your therapist. In fact - these are probably the most important aspect of any therapy. 

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Related articles

Discover the Signs and Symptoms of PTSD
These Are the Symptoms of a Brain Injury
What is Human Givens Therapy?
The Best Stress Management Strategies in the Workplace
How to Get Over a Burn-Out
How to Deal with a Birth Trauma
How to Build Your Self-Esteem
Self-hypnosis FAQ and Downloads

Other helpful links

EMDR Network
EFTuniverse

References

*Krzysztof Ph.D., K. Social Support and Traumatic Stress. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Vol 16 No. 2, Spring 2005, via ptsd.va.gov

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