All Posts Tagged: post traumatic stress disorder

What is Trauma

In general, trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. When loosely applied, this trauma definition can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. However, it can also encompass the far extreme and include experiences that are severely damaging, such as rape or torture.

Because events are viewed subjectively, this broad trauma definition is more of a guideline. Everyone processes a traumatic event differently because we all face them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. For example: one person might be upset and fearful after going through a hurricane, but someone else might have lost family and barely escaped from a flooded home during Hurricane Katrina. In this case, a minor Category One hurricane may bring up traumatic flashbacks of their terrifying experience.

Because trauma reactions fall across a wide spectrum, psychologists have developed categories as a way to differentiate between types of trauma. Among them are complex trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and developmental trauma disorder.

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Media-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Veterans of the Vietnam war have sadly raised our awareness of the existence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a chronic, sometimes lifelong condition resulting in pathological changes in mood, thinking and behavior. It can be incapacitating and lead to job loss, family turmoil and dissolution, poor quality of life and often suicide.

We now understand that the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has its basis in enduring alterations of brain function, which helps to explain the chronic, persistent nature of this disorder. Treatment can be helpful but frustratingly inadequate. Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” medication. Research has supported the use of specific psychotherapeutic protocols but community availability can be a problem.

While PTSD’s origins stemmed from war related trauma, we now understand that a wide spectrum of life stressors can result in this disorder. The twenty-first century has brought terror attacks to the world stage. “Lone wolf” attacks, Islamic terrorism, and most recently, violence against the police have become a national preoccupation. In previous decades, our awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was based on either our familiarity with individuals suffering from this disorder or the occasional print news article. However, the media technology revolution of our current century has brought us both the blessing and curse of 24/7 connectivity to world and national events.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  and Media Coverage of Traumatic Events

For several years, the therapists at the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders have been very concerned about the repetitive exposure to traumatic life events that people experience via internet and television broadcasts. Recent terror attacks around the world are cases in point, for one cannot avoid the media’s persistent replaying of the visual imagery and dramatic accounts of these human tragedies.

Before the media revolution we learned of traumatic events through the newspaper, the 6:00 pm news, or the news hour on the radio. One only has to recall the steady calm recitation of bad news by the likes of Walter Cronkite and compare it to the present day dramatic and horrifying presentation of similar news stories. Clearly, horror sells and is profitable. We have become captive audiences for this traumatic exposure. To make matters worse, we are transfixed by it and have difficulty “unplugging” ourselves from the TV set or internet.

This brings our therapists to their greatest clinical concern. Repetitive exposure to graphic trauma has an impact on our central nervous systems. Even though we may not be the victim of the terror, we are passively being terrorized. Adults have a greater capacity to process such horror, but imagine the difficulties this creates for our children. Their immature nervous systems and reasoning ability pose significant obstacles for coping with this type of daily non-stop life stress. We fear that we are all becoming victims, in our own way, of the “madness” we are being exposed to.

We have a responsibility to control our children’s exposure to traumatic media and to prevent the damage that can result. As adults, we should heed this advice, as well. Ultimately, we must change the way that public media communicates traumatic events, however, this is easier said than done.

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EMDR Therapy Helps Trauma Recovery

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a fairly new therapy that helps specifically in the treatment of trauma recovery and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder that often develops after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal – one in which intense physical harm occurred or was threatened. PTSD can also result after someone has witnessed an event that is disturbing, distressing, or dangerous. Sufferers of this disorder have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal.

PTSD can be triggered by events such as:

  • Military combat
  • Violent personal assaults
  • Natural or human-caused disasters
  • Car accidents, plane crashes

To understand EMDR therapy, it’s important to first understand how PTSD can impact people. People who have developed this type of disorder often have ‘re-experiencing symptoms’ or exhibit avoidance symptoms, which can include:

  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Nightmares and bad dreams
  • Uncontrollable and frightening thoughts about the event
  • Avoidance of people, activities, or places that remind them of the traumatic experience
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that makes them think of the event
  • Irritability, aggressive behavior, angry outbursts
  • Feeling guilt, shame, or worry about the event

What is EMDR?

A great way to understand EMDR is to think through the body’s normal healing process. When you cut yourself, your body works on its own to heal the injury. If the wound is irritated by a foreign object, the abrasion festers and the body is unable to close the wound until the object is removed.

There is evidence to support the theory that the mind works in much the same way. With post traumatic stress disorder, healing cannot happen because the survivor keeps reliving the trauma through their flashbacks and dreams. Those memories are the “foreign objects” that fight the healing process.

Effective EMDR therapy includes some important elements:

  • Processing of the traumatic memory and disturbing feelings
  • Transformation of the painful events on an emotional level
  • Empowerment of the person dealing with PTSD

EMDR therapy also involves using bilateral (both sides of the body) stimulation, such as:

  • Eye movements
  • Physical hand tapping or toe tapping
  • Musical tones

These bilateral stimuli and the guidance of the therapist allow the survivor to tap into the biological mechanisms that come into play during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. It is believed that this allows the individual to naturally process their memories – effectively removing those “foreign objects” so their mind can heal.

What Does EMDR Therapy Include?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy consists of eight therapy phases that are focused around three specific time periods:

  • The past – the event(s) that created or intensified the trauma is identified
  • The present – attention is given to the current situations that are causing distress
  • The future – action is taken to develop the skills and attitudes needed for positive progress

Phase 1: The therapist works with the individual to uncover the incident or trigger event from the survivor’s past that might be relevant for the therapy. This may include not only the traumatic event, but also other incidents from the person’s past. The treatment plan is developed during this stage.

Phase 2: The therapist teaches the individual a variety of stress reduction and imagery techniques that can be used during and between sessions to help them handle their emotional distress.

Phases 3-6: A target memory is chosen and processed using EMDR therapy techniques. In order to start this procedure, the individual must identify the following:

  1. Emotions and physical sensations related to the memory
  2. Visual imagery related to the memory
  3. A negative belief about themselves that is related to their distress
  4. A positive belief they’d like to have

The therapist asks the individual to rate the strength of the negative and positive beliefs they choose. Then, the person is instructed to focus on the imagery, negative thoughts, and body sensations they relate to the target memory while the therapist directs them in performing the bilateral stimulation that is the hallmark of EMDR therapy. These steps are done repetitively in ‘sets’, with the survivor rating the strength of the negative beliefs after each set. Once the person no longer reports distress related to the memory, the therapist will repeat the process while focusing on the positive belief previously identified.

Phase 7: This is the closure phase, where the trauma survivor keeps a log of any lingering negative thoughts or emotions that come up throughout the week. By reviewing the person’s journal of their negative emotions or thoughts, the therapist gains information to help the individual continue to work through their pain while reminding them of self-calming techniques learned during therapy.

Phase 8: In this final phase, the therapist and patient examine the progress made during previous sessions.

How to Get Help

One of the benefits of EMDR is that it has been shown to help trauma survivors with post traumatic stress disorder heal faster than through traditional therapy. Look at these amazing results:

  • One study revealed 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer had PTSD after only three 90-minute sessions
  • Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after six 50-minute sessions
  • A third study showed that 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions

This means that relief from your pain is not only possible but it can be obtained in a relatively short amount of time. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, seeking professional help can be the most direct path to reclaiming your life.

Learn More

For more information about EMDR and how EMDR therapy can help you or a loved one overcome trauma and PTSD, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us at 561-496-1094.

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