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Failure Of Information Processing At Core Of PTSD

failure of information processing at core of PTSD

Research suggests (for examples, see below) that traumatic memories are not stored in the normal way (this theory was initially proposed by the psychologist and philosopher Pierre Janet) but non-linguistically as feelings / emotions and sensations (e.g. images, sounds, smells). This means that they cannot be properly articulated nor integrated into the individual’s personal narrative (story) in a meaningful way. This is why people frequently find trauma  extremely difficult to talk about.

Also, traumatic memories are stored in a fragmentary way (as opposed to in a way that allows them to form a coherent whole) and remain unmodified over time. 

Another feature of traumatic memories, according to Pierre Janet, is that they frequently cannot be remembered at will but are state-dependent (i.e. can only be recalled – in the form of flashbacks, for example – when the individual is in a similar state of consciousness to the one s/he was experiencing at the time of the trauma).

So, as we can see from the above, traumatic memories are not processed in the normal way and it is this lack of normal information processing that lies at the core of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One main theory related to this is that they (i.e. the traumatic memories) are prevented from being properly processed by the EXTREME LEVEL OF AROUSAL the individual feels whilst experiencing the trauma.

Supporting Evidence :

Research (Kolk and Ducey) into flashbacks (a central feature of PTSD) using neuroimaging has revealed that, when these flashbacks occur :

  • there is increased activity in areas of the right hemisphere which are involved with emotional processing
  • there is increased activity in the right visual cortex

These two findings support the theory that traumatic memories (in this case, flashbacks) are processed / stored in the form of emotions and sensations (in the case of the above research visual sensations).

Furthermore, Rauch et al (1995) conducted research showing that individuals experiencing flashbacks simultaneously experienced a decrease in activity in the part of the brain, located in the left hemisphere, called Broca’s area (a brain region involved with language) ; this finding supports the theory that traumatic memories are not stored in linguistic form.

Implications For Therapy :

The above supports the notion that effective therapy for PTSD should involve the individual afflicted by it being helped by the therapist to properly process traumatic memories so that they may be safely integrated into the person’s personal narrative.

RESOURCE :

NHS Advice On Treatments For PTSD – click here.

eBooks :

emotional abuse book   childhood trauma damages brain ebook

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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Copyright 2017 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Trauma Triggers : Definition And Examples

 trauma triggers
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Responding and Adjusting to the Effects of Trauma : Five Stages

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

One of the world’s leading experts on the effects of traumatic experience is the psychologist Mardi Horowitz, and it is he who proposed the five stage model of how we respond and adjust to traumatic experience. The five stages that Horowitz describes are as follows :

HOROWITZ’S FIVE STAGE MODEL OF HOW WE RESPOND AND ADJUST TO TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE :

A) Outcry

B) Numbness and denial

C) Intrusive re-experiencing of the traumatic experience

D) Working through the traumatic experience

E) Completion

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Let’s look at each of these five stages in turn :

A) Outcry : this first stage occurs in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic experience – it involves a disorganized and confused mental state in which the individual is likely to feel overwhelmed and disorientated.

B) Numbness and denial : this second stage is essentially self-protective – the brain attempts to banish thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic experience from conscious awareness leading to a state of numbness and denial. This can include psychological states known as ‘depersonalization’ (this is a sense of being cut off from, or somehow separate from, one’s real self) and ‘derealization’ (this is the sensation of being cut off from reality ; it generates the feeling the trauma was not real – as if it had just happened in a film or play : the individual finds it hard to accept the traumatic event/s did actually occur).

C) Intrusive re-experiencing : however, the above protective stage can only endure for so long until the memories start to powerfully re-assert themselves. It should also be noted that, paradoxically, the more an individual actively attempts to suppress the painful memories, the more forceful they will tend to become – this is a process called ‘rebound’ (click here for one of my articles related to this phenomenon).

Because this stage involves re-experiencing the traumatic event/s, it can be very distressing ; to reduce the power of the memories and the psychological pain that they bring, it is necessary to start to process them.

People often vascillate between stages 2 (B) and 3 (C) and it is often only possible to start assimilating what has happened into long-term memory in a slow and gradual manner, bit by bit. This assimilation process is stage 4 (D) – Horowitz referred to it as ‘working through’.

D) Working through : during this stage, which involves coming to terms with what occurred, making sense of it, understanding its meaning and implications and integrating the traumatic experiences into long-term memory, both denial and intrusive memories, together with the pain associated with the trauma, start to diminish

E) Finally, completion occurs – the previously intrusive memories become fully integrated into long-term memory and begin to lose their power to cause emotional distress.

GETTING STUCK AT A PARTICULAR STAGE OF RECOVERY :

However, sometimes the recovering individual may become stuck at a particular stage, not infrequently at stage 3 (C) – the ‘intrusive memories’ stage ; this may involve disturbing thoughts, images, flashbacks and nightmares. In such a case, appropriate therapy may be essential.

Above eBook now available for immediate download from Amazon. CLICK HERE for details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery
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