Tag Archives: Ptsd

What Are The Differences Between The Traumatized And Normal Brain?

I have already written at length about how severe and protracted childhood trauma can physically damage the brain’s development, adversely affecting both its structure and functionality, which, in turn, can contribute to the development of very serious psychiatric conditions such as complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

In this article, I will focus in on the main ways in which the brains of individuals suffering from PTSD / Complex PTSD may differ from ‘normal’, non-traumatized brains.

According the various neuroimaging studies, the brain areas that differ most markedly between these two groups are as follows :

  • the hippocampus
  • the amygdala
  • the prefrontal cortrex 

Let’s consider each of these three brain regions in turn :

THE HIPPOCAMPUS :

The hippocampus is part of the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system is intimately involved in how our memory functions, our motivation and how we experience emotions such as fear and anger.

It is theorized that it can be damaged by excess cortisol being released into the body in those who suffer severe chronic stress (cotisol is a hormone released into the body under conditions of extreme stress and perceived threat to help mobilize the body and prepare it for ‘fight or flight.’)

Indeed, studies have also shown that the size of the hippocampus is smaller in those suffering from PTSD (however, it should be borne in mind that one cannot categorically infer that this reduction in size has been caused by prolonged exposure to extreme stress – it could be that some people are born with smaller hippocampi which, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to the adverse effects of stress. Indeed, some research has been carried out that lends this alternative view some weight).

Damage done to the hippocampus by trauma can result in :

  • extreme and persistent fearfulness
  • problems recalling the traumatic event/s or parts of the traumatic event/s
  • constantly intruding, unwanted, distressing and vivid memories of the traumatic event/s
  • susceptibility to extreme fear responses in relation to ‘triggers’ (i.e. anything that reminds the traumatized individual of the traumatic event/s on either a conscious or unconscious level).

THE AMYGDALA :

The amygdala is a small part of the brain and its function is to immediately assess whether incoming sensory information (i.e. all the information we take in by sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell) IS A THREAT OR NOT.

So, for example, the amygdala is responsible for making you jump if you hear a sudden, unexpected, loud bang. It operates below the level of our conscious awareness so the responses it gives rise to (like making us jump) are NOT UNDER OUR CONSCIOUS CONTROL.

It works at lightning speed on a ‘better safe than sorry’ basis, so, using the ‘loud, unexpected noise’ example, the sound of the bang will make us jump whether it is the result of dangerous gunfire or a harmless firework.

It is only after this initial, automatic, immediate response (which has evolved in order to be of optimum survival value) that the brain further processes the information to assess whether the noise REALLY DID REPRESENT A THREAT OR NOT.

Because of the amygdala’s function, it is also sometimes referred to as the brain’s FEAR CENTER.

The effect of chronic, severe trauma on the amygydala is that it eventually becomes over-reactive, or, as it is sometimes described, ‘stuck on red alert’, so that we become hypervigilant and may become terrified by people, events, situations etc. that, objectively speaking, pose no threat whatsoever and would not, in the least, cause anxiety in a non-traumatized person. In essence, we start to ‘see threat everywhere’ and may live in a constant state of, at best, apprehension and trepidation.

OTHER EFFECTS OF AN OVERACTIVATED AMYGDALA AND CONSEQUENTLY LIVING IN A STATE OF CONSTANT FEAR :

When we are living in a constant state of fear due to an overactivated amygdala we are essentially locked into the fight / flight survival mode. As such, we become completely focused upon ourselves and selfish, (but it is not a willed, conscious, decision ; it is our brain’s way of increasing the chances that we will survive). 

This can also result in a much diminished sense of empathy for others (altruistic and other positive behaviors towards others like forgiveness, generosity and consideration are far more likely to occur when a person feels safe, secure, content and has most of their own needs fulfilled ; in relation to this, one need only consider the difference in most people’s behavior when things are going well compared to when they are going badly).

It should also be noted that the amygdala cannot stay hyperactivated indefinitely which means those suffering from PTSD, at times when the amygdala becomes ‘exhausted’by its relentless, frenetic activity, will move out of the fight / flight state and move into the ‘freeze‘, or dissociated, state.

THE PREFRONTAL CORTEX : 

In PTSD sufferers, the prefrontal cortex becomes UNDERACTIVATED.

The prefrontal cortex is often described as the THINKING CENTER of the brain and studies involving both humans (including functional imaging studies) and animals suggest that chronic and severe trauma impairs its functioning. 

It is theorized that the resulting dysfunction of this brain area impairs its ability to appropriately inhibit the fear-generating amygdala, thus allowing it (i.e. the amygdala) to ‘run riot’, as it were.

Severely traumatized individuals may also experience increased blood flow to the right prefrontal lobe which, in turn, can intensify feelings of sadness and aggression.

7 Key Elements Of Brain  Repair

REPAIRING THE BRAIN :

Damage done to the brain as a consequence of severe and protracted trauma can result in various cognitive, emotional and behavioural problems in adulthood.

However, thanks to a quality in the brain known as neuroplasticity, that it is now known that, under certain conditions, the brain has the potential to recover from the damage it incurred during early life.

For example, if our brain was affected in such a way when we were young that, as adults, we are extremely anxious and hypersensitive to stress, mindfulness meditation has been shown by much research to have the potential to greatly alleviate this problem.

In order for positive changes to take place in the brain that are long-lasting, it is necessary to alter the structure of the brain on a neuronal level; seven major elements that are of great importance to achieving this are as follows :

REPAIRING THE BRAIN : THE SEVEN KEY ELEMENTS 

  1. NOVELTY – the brain must receive new information and stimuli in order to change itself (e.g. by using repeated self-hypnosis).
  2. REPETITION – the brain must be repeatedly exposed to this new information to enable it to start making, strengthening and consolidating new neural connections.
  3. ATTENTION – it is necessary to pay good attention to the new information/stimuli for the new, beneficial neural connections to occur (paying attention stimulates the production of acetylcholine in the brain which aids the development of these new neural connections)
  4. DIET – in particular, Omega 3 helps the development of new neural connections (Omega 3 can be bought as a supplement).
  5. AEROBIC EXERCISE – research suggests that this form of exercise helps the brain to positively regenerate itself
  6. RELATIONSHIPS – forming close bonds with others (and, importantly, relating well to ourselves) has also been shown to lead to beneficial brain development
  7. SLEEP – it is important to get sufficient sleep (research suggests that the brain most actively ‘repairs’ itself during sleep.)

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Why Complex PTSD Sufferers May Avoid Eye Contact

A study by Lanius  et al. was conducted to cast light upon why many with individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including those suffering from complex-PTSD, often find it excruciatingly uncomfortable every time the rules of social etiquette compel them to make eye to eye contact with another human being (I, myself once attempted to circumvent this problem by deliberately buying a pair of glasses with lenses that were by far the wrong strength for me so that, whilst, to whomever it was I was required, as the law of social norms decrees, to make eye contact, I appeared to be doing so in the conventionally stipulated manner,  in fact, all that my eyes were actually meeting with was a comfortingly, non-threatening blur).

Returning to Lanius’ et al.’s experiment :

The experiment consisted of two groups :

1) Survivors of chronic trauma

2) ‘Normal’ controls

What Did The Experiment Involve?

Participants from both of the above groups were subjected to brain scans whilst a making eye to eye contact with a video character in such a way as to mimic real life face to face  contact.

What Were The Results Of The Experiment?

In the case of the ‘normal’ controls (i.e. those who had NOT suffered significant trauma), the simulated eye to eye contact with the video character caused the are of the brain known as the PREFRONTAL CORTEX to become ACTIVATED.

HOWEVER:

In the case of the chronic trauma survivors, the same simulated eye contact with the video character did NOT cause activation of the PREFRONTAL CORTEX. Instead, the scans revealed that, in response to the simulated eye contact, the part of the chronic trauma survivors’ brains that WAS ACTIVATED was a very primitive part (located deep inside the emotional brain) known as the PERIAQUEDUCTAL GRAY.

 

 

INTERPRETATION OF THESE RESULTS :

The prefrontal cortex helps us judge and assess a person when we make eye contact, so we can determine whether their intentions seem good or ill.

However, the periaqueductal gray  region is associated with SELF-PROTECTIVE RESPONSES such as hypervigilance, submission and cowering.

Therefore, we can infer that those with PTSD / complex PTSD may find it hard to make eye contact because their brains have been adversely affected, as a result of their traumatic experiences, in such a way that, when they make eye contact with another person, the ‘appraisal’ stage of the interaction (normally carried out by the prefrontal cortex) is missed out and, instead, their brains, due to activation of the periqueductal region, cause an intensely fearful response.

This constitutes yet another example of how severe and protracted childhood trauma can damage the physical development of the brain.

 

Link : Lanius et al’s study.

 

eBook :

 

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here for further details.

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

Study Shows PTSD Sufferers Can Be Willing To Risk Life For Cure

PTSD sufferers

Anybody who has suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) / complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) knows that the mental torment and anguish it entails can be extreme and unremitting.

Frustratingly (putting it mildly), such pain is impossible to describe in words to those who have been fortunate enough never to have experienced such conditions much in the same way as it would not be possible to describe to a person who has been blind from birth what it’s like to experience the color red (or any other color, for that matter).

It may well be useful, therefore, to outline the findings of the following study which helps to demonstrate how desperate sufferers of PTSD may become to be free from their ineffable suffering.

 

THE STUDY :

 

Zoellner and Feeny (2011) carried out interviews with 184 individuals who had been diagnosed with PTSD.

 

 

RESULTS :

Two main findings that help convey just how desperate people can be to be free from the constant distress PTSD can induce were as follows :

  1. On average, participants in the study said they would be prepared to undergo a treatment that would completely cure their PTSD even if such a treatment carried 13 per cent risk of resulting in their immediate death.
  2. On average, participants said they would be prepared to give up 13.6 years of their lives to be relieved of their PTSD symptoms.

Through the interviews conducted in the study, it was also found that symptoms linked to hyperarousal, hypervigilance, insomnia and irritability were particularly difficult to tolerate.

 

RESOURCES :

eBook :

Above eBook now available for immediate download from Amazon. Click here, or on image above, for further details (other titles available).

 

Overcome Hypervigilance | Self Hypnosis Downloads. Click here for further details.

 

Further information about PTSD and complex PTSD. Click link below :

www.nhs.co.uk/PTSD

 

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

PTSD And ‘A Sense Of A Foreshortened Future.’

foreshortened sense of future

sense of foreshortened future

The DSM 4 (Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Illness, 4th Edition) lists one of the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a ‘sense of a foreshortened future.‘ It is this specific symptom that I wish to concentrate upon in this article.

The psychologists Ratcliffe et al. (2014) suggested, based on their research, that this involved several elements of altered feelings, perceptions and beliefs, some of which I consider (although not exclusively) below.

NEGATIVE VIEW OF THE FUTURE :

An individual suffering from a ‘sense of a foreshortened future’ may have an extremely negative and pessimistic set of beliefs about the future ; these may include :

  • I will die young / soon / prematurely / imminently
  • I will never have a rewarding and successful career
  • I will never find a partner / have a family.

In other words, the individual who is experiencing a ‘sense of a foreshortened future‘ regards the future as bleak, empty a without meaning. 

  • It follows.of course, that the person’s feelings and emotions in relation to the future will also be negative – rather than being hopeful about it, s/he may fear and dread it.

 

ALTERATIONS IN PERCEPTION OF TIME :

Also, such a person may experience severe alterations in his/her perception of how time operates, including :

  • changes in perception of the passage of time and feeling unable to ‘move forward into the future’
  • changes in how PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE are experienced
  • changes in how the relationship between the PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE are experienced
  • the experience of flashbacks (in which the past is experienced as ‘happening now.’
  • a change in perception of the overall structure of experience

FEELING THAT LIFE IS OVER :

Freeman (2000) coined the term ‘narrative foreclosure’ which refers to a strong sense that one’s ‘life story has effectively ended.’ and that there is no further purpose to it, no further meaning that can be derived from it and no possibility that it will contain deep relationships with others or achievement of any kind. The individual affected in this way may also cease to feel s/he cares about anything or can be committed to any cause or project in the future.

In short, a sense of nihilism may prevail.

LOSS OF TRUST :

Also relevant to an individual developing a sense of a foreshortened future is that it is likely to be intertwined with a general loss of trust which may manifest itself through beliefs such as :

  • others cannot be trusted and pose a threat to me
  • the world is a dangerous place that I should interact with as little as possible

THE ‘SHATTERING’ OF ONE’S EXPERIENCE OF WORLD AND OF OTHER PEOPLE :

Greening (1990) puts forward the view that the individual’s ‘relationship with existence itself becomes shattered’. For example, the experience of trauma may leave the individual with a fundamentally altered views about the safety of the world (Herman, 1992) and his/her place within it ; the world seems meaningless, other people undependable and dangerous, and the self of no value.

LOSS OF PREDICTABILITY :

The individual, too, may come to see life as essentially random and unpredictable, feel that s/he can exercise no control over it, and that, therefore, there is no prospect of life unfolding in a dependable, coherent, cohesively structured way – s/he may feel s/he is no longer travelling through life on a reasonably straight set of tracks, but, rather, on tracks that twist and turn at random and from which one may be completely derailed at any time without warning. Indeed, Stolorow (2007) refers to how the individual may lose his/her sense of ‘safety’ and and of any meaningful ‘continuity’ in life.

Such a person may feel that ‘anything can happen at any time’ and that these things will, inevitably, be very bad. Because of this, s/he may feel perpetually trepidatious and vulnerable – alone in a an alien, sinister, hostile and frightening world ; a world in which there is no structure to hold one in place, no coherence and nowhere one can feel safe or a sense of belonging ; it can seem as if the foundations of one’s life are now built on sand rather than on solid ground and, as such, one’s life is liable to collapse at any time and without warning.

foreshortened sense of future

AN UNSHAKABLE SENSE OF IMMINENT DEATH :

Any future goals the individual had may now seem meaningless and pointless – even absurd ; linked to this can be a feeling that one is no longer moving forward in life and that there is no worthwhile direction in which life can go – any direction feels equally futile and devoid of meaning.

And, because the individual now sees only emptiness lying ahead of him/her in life this can translate into a perception that future time itself has somehow dissolved and has been replaced by a kind of ‘temporal vacuum’. This, in turn, leads to a feeling that nothing of meaningful substance lies between the present and death. Future time is anticipated as a void and in this sense ceases to be real – therefore, DEATH FEELS ABIDINGLY AND PERPETUALLY IMMINENT ; no buffer of a meaningful, substantive, solid, structured, ‘block of time’ is perceived to lie between NOW and DEATH’S OCCURRENCE ; instead, just a nebulous, indistinct haze of ‘virtual nothingness.’ (This is a difficult concept to relate to, or, even, comprehend  if one has not experienced such an unhappy state of being – or, perhaps more accurately put, non-being – oneself).

To all intents and purposes, therefore, to an individual suffering from a ‘sense of a foreshortened future, it feels as if one’s life is already over. Indeed, Herman (1992) noted that it was not unusual for those who had been affected by the experience of severe trauma reported feeling as if they were dead or as if part of them had died.

RECOVERY :

The psychologist and expert on trauma and its effects, Herman (referred to above), suggests that there are three main stages involved in recovering from PTSD – to read my article on these three stages, click HERE.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

Hypervigilance And Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD).

hypervigilance

hypervigilance and complex posttraumatic stress disorder

If we have grown up in a chronically stressful and traumatic environment in which we often experienced anxiety, trepidation, stress and fear we are at high risk of developing a fundamental, core belief (on a conscious and/or unconscious level) that the world is a dangerous place and that we need to be constantly on ‘red-alert’ and ‘on-guard’ in order to protect ourselves from sustaining further psychological injury.

In other words, we GENERALIZE our perception that our childhood environment was a dangerous place (because of the emotional and/or physical harm done to us there) into a perception that everywhere else/the world in general poses an on-going threat to us.

As a result, we may develop a symptom known as HYPERVIGILANCE.

HYPERVIGILANCE is a main symptom of complex PTSD (complex PTSD is a serious psychological disorder strongly associated with childhood trauma which you can read more about by reading my post entitled : Childhood Trauma : Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (With Questionnaire).

hypervigilance

HOW DOES HYPERVIGILANCE MANIFEST ITSELF?

Individuals suffering from hypervigilance may :

  • constantly analyze the behavior (including body language, facial expressions, intonation etc) of those around them in an attempt to determine if they pose a threat (and, frequently, they may perceive a threat to exist when, in reality, it does not)
  • be in a constant state of anxiety, irritation and agitation
  • have an exaggerated startle response to loud, unexpected noises
  • experience excessive concern regarding how they are viewed by others
  • be excessively suspicious of others / expect others to betray them ; this can give rise to paranoid-like states
  • perceive danger everywhere even though this is not objectively justified
  • easily be provoked into aggression (as a means of defending themselves against perceived threats from others ; in other words, such aggressive outbursts are a (primarily unconsciously motivated) DEFENSE MECHANISM.
  • PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS (including elevated heart rate, hyperventilation, trembling and sweating)
  • have false perceptions that others dislike them, are plotting against them or mean them harm
  • see minor set-backs as major disasters (this is a cognitive distortion sometimes referred to as CATASTROPHIZING.
  • frequently experience fear and panic when, objectively speaking, it is not justified
  • experience obsessive worry and rumination that is intrusive and hard to control
  • suffer from sleep problems (including very frequent waking and nightmares)
  • feel constantly exhausted (due to both sleep problems and the sheer debilitating effects of being in a constant state of anxiety)
  • social anxiety / impaired relationships / social isolation

Therapies For The Treatment Of Hypervigilance :

Therapies that may ameliorate symptoms of hypervigilance include :

Some medications, such as beta blockers, may sometimes also be appropriate, but, it is, of course, always necessary to consult a suitably qualified professional before embarking upon such treatment.

 

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here or on above image for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

Prolonged Exposure Therapy And Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Major symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (cPTSD)click here to read about the difference between these two conditions – are fear, anxiety and even terror induced by :

– situations related to the traumatic experience

– people related to the traumatic experience

– places related to the traumatic experience

– activities related to the traumatic experience

Prolonged Exposure Therapy Involves Two Specific Types Of Exposure To Trauma-Related Phenomena :

a) In Vivo Exposure

b) Imaginal Exposure

In Vivo Exposure :

Prolonged exposure therapy works by encouraging the individual with PTSD / cPTSD, in a supportive manner, very gradually, to confront these situations / people / places / activities whilst, at the same time, feeling safe, secure and calm. Because this part of the therapy involves exposure to ‘real life’ situations / people / places / activities it is called in vivo exposure.

This is so important because avoiding these situations / people / places / activities, whilst reducing the individual’s anxiety in the short-term, in the longer-term simply perpetuates, and, potentially, intensifies, his/her fear of these things.

Imaginal Exposure:

The therapy also involves the PTSD / cPTSD sufferer talking over details and memories of the traumatic experience in a safe environment and whilst in a relaxed frame of mind (the therapist can help to induce a relaxed frame of mind by teaching the patient/client breathing exercises and/or physical relaxation techniques; hypnosis can also be used to help induce a state of relaxation). Because this part of the therapy ‘only’ involves mental exposure to the trauma (i.e. thinking about it in one’s mind), it is called imaginal exposure and can help alleviate intense emotions connected to the original trauma (e.g. fear and anger).

Both in vivo and imaginal exposure to the trauma-related stimuli are forms of desensitizing and habituating the patient / client to them, thus reducing his/her symptoms of PTSD / cPTSD.

How Effective Is Prolonged Exposure Therapy?

Prolonged exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and research into the treatment of PTSD suggests it is the most effective treatment currently available.

What Is The Duration Of The Treatment?

The length of time a patient / client spends in treatment varies in accordance with his/her needs and his/her therapist’s particular approach. However, the usual duration of the treatment is between two and four months, comprising weekly sessions of approximately ninety minutes each.

On top of this, the patient / client will need to undertake some therapeutic exercises/activities in his/her own time, set by the therapist as ‘ homework assignments’. These assignments will include listening to recordings of imaginal exposure therapy sessions.

RESOURCES :

The National Center For PTSD has developed a PROLONGED EXPOSURE APP, or PE APP. Click here for further information and download instructions.

eBook :

 

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Other titles available. Click here for further information.
 

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

 

 

 

Why Is Physical Illness More Common In PTSD Sufferers?

PTSD and physical illness

If we have suffered from significant childhood trauma leading to the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our adult lives this also puts us at increased risk of developing various unpleasant physical symptoms. This is because the trauma has had chemical effects in our brain (leading to our PTSD) which can have knock-on adverse effects upon our body. I provide examples of the kind of symptoms that may result below :

SYMPTOMS :

  • increased rate of heartbeat
  • stomach / digestive problems
  • rapid and shallow breathing (often referred to as hyperventilation)
  • shaking / trembling / tremors / localized muscle spasms
  • feeling faint / light-headedness
  • sweating

DISEASES AND DISORDERS :

A positive correlation exists between the incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a population and the incidence of certain physical diseases and disorders (shown below) in that same population. However, further research needs to be conducted in order to ascertain whether having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases one’s risk of suffering these conditions or whether having such conditions makes one more vulnerable to developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some of the diseases and disorders associated with PTSD are as follows :

  • cardiovascular disease
  • increased probability of suffering from heart attacks
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • headaches
  • certain autoimmune disorders (eg those causing problems with the skin)
  • pregnancy complications
  • miscarriage
  • preterm contractions
  • obesity

 

Above : PTSD physically, biologically and chemically alters the brain – these changes may lead to physical symptoms, diseases and disorders in some sufferers, on top of the immense psychological pain and suffering it causes all who are unfortunate enough to have the condition.

 

Why Do Such Links Between PTSD And These Disorders Exist?

Various theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain why such links between PTSD and physical disorders such as those listed above exist.

  1. Increases in stress hormones such as cortisol over time have an adverse physical effect upon the heart and cardiovascular system.
  2. PTSD can lead to unhealthy ways of trying to cope with mental pain and suffering such as excessive drinking, excessive smoking and the ingestion of dangerous narcotics and overeating (so-called ‘comfort eating’) all of which, in turn, can lead to declining physical health.
  3. PTSD sufferers tend also to be seriously depressed and therefore lethargic – this can mean that PTSD sufferers take very little physical exercise leading to a greater likelihood of developing physical health problems.
  4. PTSD causes a change in the balance of chemicals in the brain and these changes, in turn, may cause yet further changes adversely affecting the immune system and various bodily organs.
  5. Changes in certain chemicals that negatively affect the mind also adversely affect the stomach.

 

eBook :

Above eBook now available for immediate download from Amazon. Click here.

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

 

The Serious Harm Trauma Can Do To Our Nervous System

 

Not very long ago, I was in the supermarket, and, as the till assistant was scanning my shopping items, he gave me a quizical look and asked, ‘Are you alright, you seem to be breathing very heavily?’ This was unexpected and made me feel even more self-conscious than I normally do. In such situations, my mind usually goes blank and I only later realize what I should have said (l’esprit de l’escalier, as I believe they say in France).

However, on this occasion, I did, unusually for me, manage to mutter an immediate response, attempting to casually pass off my canine-like panting as a mild attack of asthma (untrue). The till assistant eyed me wearily, looking disconcertingly unconvinced, as I hastily paid for my items and made my shame-faced escape, immediately lighting a cigarette once back on the street ( thus making my ‘asthma’ excuse look all the more ludicrous).

As a result of this, I’ve been too embarrassed to return and have been forced to take my business elsewhere.( The new supermarket I go to never seems to stock what I want. On the odd occasion they do stock what I want, it seems that once they realize this they immediately discontinue stocking it.)

The truth of the matter is that, at the time, I was pretty much constantly hyperventilating. In this article, I want to look at why and how this can happen.

 

 Above – a suggested breathing exercise to help manage the physiological effects of stress.

We have seen in other articles I have published on this site that there is a significant link between the experience of severe childhood trauma and the subsequent development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in later life.

If we have developed PTSD, one of the main reasons it can be so intensely distressing is the effect severe and protracted exposure to traumatic stress can have on the body, or, more specifically, the nervous system.

After severe and prolonged trauma, the body can, in effect, become stuck in ’emergency mode.’ In this state, we either ‘freeze’ or else enter the well known ‘fight or flight’ state. The psychological researcher, Levine, with regard to this, suggested that, in response to trauma, we sometimes get stuck in the ‘freeze’ state so that the physiological arousal caused by the fear our experience of trauma has induced becomes trapped in our nervous system and cannot be dissipated.

This, in turn, makes the nervous system yet more vulnerable and sensitive to the effects of stress, so that further stressors in life (on top of the stress of the original trauma) compound the problem exponentially.

To illustrate how this pent up physiological arousal cannot be discharged (making us feel constantly keyed up, on edge and agitated) Levine uses the metaphor of a car being revved up but with the brakes on. Just as this puts great strain on a car’s engine, so, too, is our nervous system placed under enormous strain by a similar process.

In this way, a vicious circle develops: the more stressed we become, the less able the nervous system is able to cope, so the more stressed we become…and so on …and so on…

This highly distressed state actually alters the cells in our nervous system (in a process called KINDLING) and it is this that causes our nervous system to become hypersensitive and hyper-reactive, particularly in response to any stressors which, consciously or unconsciously, remind us of our original trauma.

 

To find out about PTSD treatment options, click here.

 

Recommended Resource:

 

Overcome Hypervigilance Clinical Hypnotherapy MP3. Immediate download. Click here for further information.

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

Symptoms Of PTSD Most Prevalent According To Different Age Categories

effects_of_childhood_trauma_ptsf

We have seen in other articles that I have published on this site that severe childhood trauma can lead to us developing serious psychiatric conditions such as borderline personality disorder or BPD (click here to read one of my articles about this) and posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD (sometimes referred to as complex posttraumatic stress disorder, or CPTSD (click here to read my article about some psychologists distinguish between the two).

PTSD_in_children_and_teenagers

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD it is necessary that the individual has displayed the relevant symptoms for a month or more. Unfortunately, in the worst cases, the effects of childhood trauma can last far longer than a month. Indeed, it will sometimes occur that these negative effects last a lifetime unless appropriate therapy is undertaken (to read about available therapies and professional help please refer to the MAIN MENU at the top of this page).

Symptoms of PTSD/CPTSD differ depending upon the age of the person suffering from it. In this article, I want to focus upon how PTSD/CPTSD can express itself in three specific age groups of young people. These three groups are:

a) the under 5 year olds

b) children aged 5 to 12 years

c) teenagers

and I list typical symptoms each age group may experience below:

a) under 5- year -olds:

– SEPARATION ANXIETY : this manifests itself through the young child becoming excessively upset when separated from his/her primary carer or other individual with whom s/he has developed a strong emotional bond.

– ANXIOUS BEHAVIOUR IN GENERAL : this symptom refers to the young child frequently becoming excessively anxious/nervous/fretful. In some cases, the young child may start to show fear of people s/he was previously comfortable with.

– LOSS OF CURIOSITY/INTEREST : the young child may lose his/her sense of curiosity and lose interest in activities s/he once enjoyed such as playing with toys, going to park (indeed, in some cases the child may develop a marked reluctance even to leave the house).

– WITHDRAWAL/LACK OF RESPONSIVENESS: the young child may seem to withdraw into him/herself and become less responsive to external stimuli

– RE-ENACTMENT : sometimes the child will re-enact the trauma through play (eg with dolls etc) or through painting and drawing. This tends to mean that they have become mentally fixated upon the traumatic experience which may impair their ability to develop emotionally and socially

– REGRESSION : developmental problems may even include the young person regressing (click here to read my article about this), in terms of their behaviour and functioning, to an earlier stage of development. In other words, they may start to act as if they were significantly younger than their actual chronological age. For example, if they’d reached the age whereby they were feeding themselves, they may revert to wanting to be fed (demonstrating a sudden increase in their level of dependency).

– SIGNIFICANT DISRUPTION OF SLEEP : this may include the child frquently experiencing nightmares and night terrors

– NEW FEARS : the child may suddenly become fearful of people or situations s/he used to be comfortable with

PTSD_in_children_and_teenagers

b) 6 to 12 -year – olds

– SIGNIFICANT DISRUPTION OF SLEEP : as above

– PSYCHOSOMATIC ACHES AND PAINS : ie aches and pains caused by psychological factors such as stress rather than being caused by physical factors

– PROBLEMS AT SCHOOL : eg inattentiveness, lack of concentration and focus, rebellious and confrontational behaviour, getting into fights.

PTSD_in_children_and_teenagers

c) Teenagers :

– IRRATIONAL GUILT AND SELF-BLAME : it is extremely common for children to wrongly blame themselves for the traumatic events they have experienced (e.g. many children falsely believe themselves to be the cause of their parents’ divorce).

– FLASHBACKS : ie intrusive, intense and distressing memories of the traumatic events

– NIGHTMARES/NIGHT TERRORS and problems with sleep in general

– AVOIDANCE OF PLACES AND SITUATIONS in which they used to feel safe

– EMOTIONAL AND BEHAVIOURAL AGGRESSION: ie reversion to earlier stages of development in relation to their emotions and behaviour (eg by having toddler-like tantrums).

– USE OF DRUGS/ALCOHOL in an effort to numb their emotional pain (sometimes referred to as DISSOCIATING – click here to read my article on this)

– COMING INTO CONFLICT WITH THE LAW eg due to involvement with drugs, shoplifting, fighting/violence, fire starting

– DIFFICULTY CONTROLLING EMOTIONS resulting in , for example, increased impulsivity and hostility/aggression

– SELF-DESTRUCTIVE/SELF-SUBBOTAGING BEHVIOUR

– CONSTANT PUSHING OF BOUNDARIES

– PROBLEMS AT SCHOOL – as above, but on a bigger/escalating scale

– SELF-ISOLATION/SOCIAL WITHDRAWAL and problems with interpersonal relationships in general, including difficulties forming and maintaining friendships/relationships

– INSECURITY which may manifest itself as extreme ‘ clinginess’ in any friendships / relationships that the teenager does manage to form. Click here to read my article about this.

– SEVERE MOOD SWINGS – significantly exceeding what one would expect from an ‘average’ teenager

– DEPRESSION – including loss of interest in, and loss of ability to gain pleasure from (sometimes known as ANHEDONIA – click here to read my article on this) activities that were previously enjoyed.

 

eBook :

PTSD

 

 

Above eBook now available for immediate download on Amazon. Other titles available – click here for details.

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

More on How Trauma and Stress can Affect the Child’s Developing Brain.

Our brains developed over millions of years of evolution. Different parts of the modern human brain evolved at different periods of this enormous time span.

The most primitive part of the modern brain, which evolved first, is known, rather unflatteringly, as the REPTILIAN brain. This part of our brain is ‘in charge’ of BASIC SURVIVAL PROCESSES such as the physiological aspects of the well-known FIGHT/FLIGHT RESPONSE such as heart rate.

In contrast, the part of our brain which developed most recently (the NEOCORTEX) is involved with HIGHER LEVEL PROCESSING such as complex learning, talking and forming relationships with others.

Children who experience CHRONIC and SEVERE TRAUMA as they are growing up automatically UTILIZE THE MORE PRIMITIVE PART OF THE BRAIN FAR MORE THAN NORMAL as they are driven by the adverse environment that they inhabit to FOCUS ON SURVIVAL

This comes at the expense of the development of the regions of the brain concerned with higher level mental functioning – indeed, this part of the brain can become SIGNIFICANTLY UNDER-UTILIZED, thus IMPAIRING ITS DEVELOPMENT. This can lead to the child:

– developing a brain which is smaller than normal

– developing less neural connection in the parts of the brain involved with higher level mental processing.

In short, then, the primitive part of the brain becomes OVER-EXERCISED, whilst the part of the brain which has most recently evolved becomes UNDER-EXERCISED.

impaired-brain-development-in-children

The three regions of the brain shown above evolved at different times in our evolutionary history – the most primitive part is called the REPTILIAN BRAIN and controls our basic survival mechanisms. The most recently evolved part is the NEOCORTEX which is involved in higher level mental processes such as abstract thought.

 

EFFECTS OF PRIMITIVE PART BRAIN BEING ‘OVER-EXERCISED’.

 

This results in the child becoming HYPER-SENSITIVE to the ADVERSE EFFECTS OF STRESS.

Because of this, such a child is far less able to deal with stress (i.e. s/he has a far lower stress- tolerance threshold) than children who have been fortunate enough to grow up in a more benign environment (all else being equal).

In other words, children who have grown up in traumatic environments MAY EXPERIENCE SEVERE PHYSIOLOGICAL STRESS RESPONSES TO RELATIVELY MINOR TRIGGERS/PROVOCATIONS.

Such dramatic responses are especially likely if the triggering event reminds the child, however indirectly, of the original experience of trauma.

Children suffering from such a condition may:

– have great difficulty concentrating/focussing their attention

– experience high levels of restlessness and agitation

– have high levels of anxiety

– behave aggressively/violently when under stress

– bully others (often, subconsciously, to gain a sense of control in a world in which they feel essentially powerless).

 

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS (PTSD) IN CHILDREN:

If the child develops PTSD as a result of his/her traumatic experiences his/her body will develop a chronic tendency to OVER-PRODUCE STRESS HORMONES (e.g. cortisol) on a day-to-day basis which may INTERFERE WITH HIS/HER ABILITY TO LEARN.

 

OTHER SYMPTOMS OF PTSD IN CHILDHOOD:

dissociation (‘zoning out’)

arrested development (e.g. suddenly stops talking)

nightmares/night terrors

– frequent waking during the night

– violent play (e.g. acting out violent scenarios with toys)

– frequent drawing/painting of extremely violent scenes

bed wetting

– somatic complaints (e.g. stomach aches, headaches etc)

– anxiety/depression

– general behavioural problems / acting out

– problem drinking/drug use

 

THE GOOD NEWS:

However, the positive news is that, because of an innate quality of the brain called NEUROPLASTICITY, it is able to repair and ‘rewire’ itself, thus reversing the damage done in childhood. The following experiences may help this to happen:

– physical activity

– the development of new skills

– relaxation and avoidance of stress

– healthy, pleasurable experiences

– the development of warm, emotionally fulfilling relationships

– enjoyable social activity

On the other hand, the following are likely to hinder recovery:

– continued exposure to stress

– substance misuse

(Click here to read more about this).

RESOURCE :

content_4964975_DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL

Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. Other titles also available. CLICK HERE.

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

 

The Main Elements Of Posttraumatic Growth

Many people, after suffering a terrible trauma, find that, once they have got through it and started to recover from its damaging psychological effects, they eventually reach a stage whereby they are able to use their adverse experiences to develop them as a person in highly positive ways that benefits both themselves and society at large. This has been termed by psychologists posttraumatic growth.

bbbbb

After experiencing trauma comes a slow process of recovery (assuming effective therapy is sought); the length of time recovery takes will depend both upon the type, intensity and duration of the trauma, as well as the age the individual was when s/he experienced the trauma, and also the affected individual’s personal characteristics, temperament and genetic make-up.

Once the person who experienced the trauma is able to manage his/her painful and distressing emotions more effectively, finds memories of the trauma less difficult to cope with, and is able to function reasonably well on a day to day basis, a transition can start to take place in which the person begins the process of moving on from recovery into posttraumatic growth. Ideally, this period of growth and development should be guided and facilitated by an appropriately qualified and experienced therapist.

The process of posttraumatic growth involves taking stock of what happened and analysing its significance. The American Psychological Association identify ten key elements that the process involves :

1) re-establishing meaningful relationships with other people

2) accepting that change is an inevitable part of life

3) setting goals and starting to move towards them

4) taking decisive action

5) working on developing a positive self-view

6) learning from the past

7) good self-care

8) developing an optimistic outlook

9) seeking out opportunities for self-discovery

10) seeing crises as challenges rather than as insurmountable obstacles

OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH :

 

 

RETURN HOME TO ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA RECOVERY

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

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Questionnaire

high-and -low- functioning-BPD

As we have seen in several of the previously published articles on this website (eg click here), severe childhood trauma can lead to the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are concerned you might suffer from the condition, it is important to seek advice from a relevantly qualified mental health professional.

However, if you want to find out if you have symptoms which PTSD can cause, you may find it interesting and useful to look at the list of items below and count up how many apply to you. REMEMBER, THE TEST DOES NOT REPLACE A PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ASSESSMENT AND DIAGNOSIS.

SELF-REPORT POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) TEST :

(score 1 point for each item you answer YES to)

1) Have you been exposed to a traumatic event or events?

2) Did the trauma cause you to experience feelings of intense fear/ horror and powerlessness/impotence/helplessness

3) Does it sometimes feel as if you are reliving or re-experiencing the trauma (ie flashbacks)

4) Do you experience nightmares which are associated with the trauma that you experienced

5) Did the traumatic experience involve you witnessing serious injury/death or did it involve you being seriously injured/threatened with death?

6) Do you have thoughts or mental images related to the trauma which are intrusive, difficult to control and hard to dispel from the mind?

7) When something reminds you of the trauma, or you find thoughts about it intruding on your mind, does it cause serious distress?

8) Do you avoid things that remind you of the trauma? Examples include activities, people and places

9) Do you find you have less interest in activities that you used to enjoy?

10) Are you unable to remember something significant that occurred during the trauma (this is sometimes referred to as repression)

11) Do you try to avoid speaking about what happened during the trauma?

12) Do you find yourself more irritable than you were before the trauma occurred and that you get angry much more often?

13) Do you suffer from insomnia (such as finding it hard to get off to sleep and/or waking too early)?

14) Has your concentration become impaired since the trauma?

15) Do you find you no longer wish to interact with others as much as you did prior to the trauma and that you now have difficulty trusting other people?

16) Do you fear that, because of the trauma you suffered,  it will significantly, negatively impinge upon your future life in areas such as career, relationships and life span?

17) Has your ‘startle response’ become more sensitive since the trauma?

18) Have the symptoms that you’ve experienced since the trauma lasted for a minimum of one month so far?

19) Since the trauma, do you find it harder to feel emotions (eg feeling ‘numb’ for much of the time) and/or harder to display emotions to others?

20) Do you feel hypervigilant (ie feel as if you are constantly on ‘red alert’) for much of the time and constantly have a sense of impending disaster?

21) Have what used to be your everyday routines been disrupted by how you now feel (eg social life, work)?

A guide to interpreting your score :

0-3      It is not likely that you have PTSD

4-9      It is likely you have PTSD

10 +   It is very likely you have PTSD

DISCLAIMER – This does NOT provide you with a diagnosis, it is just a guide. If you suspect you have PTSD, or a related condition, you are strongly advised to seek the relevant professional advice.

 

 

 

The eBook above are available on Amazon for immediate download. CLICK HERE

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

PTSD – 3 Steps to Mastering its Effects.

dealing with ptsd

childhood trauma and ptsd

After severe trauma and the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), one of the main symptoms the sufferer has to contend with often things which, in themselves, are not at all threatening can strike terror into the heart of the individual as, in his/her own mind, they are connected to, and re-trigger responses to, the original trauma. Psychologists often refer to this process as fear conditioning.

In normal circumstances, when a person learns to be afraid of something through the process of fear conditions, as time goes on the fear will become less intense and fade away. In psychological terminology, the fear gradually becomes extinguished. However, research by the psychologist Charney reveals that in those affected by PTSD, the necessary learning process required to extinguish the fear does not occur. This results in disturbing memories relating to the trauma persisting, in the absence of treatment for many, many years.

However, if the person affected by PTSD undergoes the right experiences in a treatment program, these disturbing memories CAN be made to loosen their grip upon the individual and become manageable, as, indeed, can the thought processes and reactions that these memories trigger.

In terms of brain activity, the fear generated by the brain structure known as the AMYGDALA can be suppressed by greater activity being generated in another brain structure known as the PREFRONTAL CORTEX. How therapy makes this happen I describe below :

Even the symptoms caused by the most severe trauma imaginable can be overcome (incredibly, studies have revealed even Holocaust survivors have recovered from the PTSD caused by their horrific experiences). The key to recovery appears to be by undergoing a process of relearning.

Dr Judith Herman, an expert in the field of trauma recovery, from Harvard University in the USA, suggests that there are three key phases of recovery. These are ;

1) attaining a sense of safety

2) remembering the details of the trauma and mourning the losses that have occurred because of it

3) re-establishing a normal life

Let’s look at each of these steps in turn :

STEP 1 – ATTAINING A SENSE OF SAFETY : this involves aiding the patient in the understanding that his/her feelings of intense anxiety, fear, nightmares, panic, terror etc are due to the condition s/he is suffering, namely PTSD, and are occurring due to brain dysfunction (which can be treated) rather than because there is any real, present threat or danger. By getting the PTSD sufferer to view his/her symptoms from this angle, these symptoms become less frightening.

Also during this initial step, the therapist can help the PTSD sufferer see that although s/he feels helpless (feeling helpless is one of the main symptoms of PTSD), this is not the case (for example, s/he has already started to take control by seeking therapy for the PTSD).

Furthermore, during this first stage of attaining a greater sense of safety and calm, there is the option of medication for symptoms such as intense anxiety and nightmares. Antidepressants which act on the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain are one option. A second option is the beta-blocker PROPRANOPOL (I was prescribed this drug and still take it; I have definitely found it to be helpful) which reduces activity in the sympathetic nervous system and reduces agitation; new research on the latter drug is giving very encouraging results.

There is also the option of teaching the PTSD sufferer relaxation techniques such as meditation and self-hypnosis.

STEP 2 – REMEMBERING THE DETAILS OF THE TRAUMA AND MOURNING THE LOSSES WHICH HAVE OCCURRED BECAUSE OF IT : once a relatively calm state and greater sense of safety and security has been attained by the individual suffering from PTSD, the second stage of the therapy can be implemented; this involves RETELLING and RESTRUCTURING the story of the trauma in a SAFE and SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT. In this way, the brain’s emotional circuits develop a more realistic comprehension and response to the traumatic memory, and, also, those things that trigger the traumatic memory.

Indeed, the retelling of the trauma in a safe environment when the PTSD sufferer is relatively calm starts to change the memory itself in terms of both its emotional meaning, and, also, therefore, in terms of its effects upon the emotional brain (ie it starts to give rise to LESS distress and anxiety).

In essence, the emotional response to the trauma is RELEARNED.

The therapist encourages the PTSD sufferer to describe the traumatic memory, however horrible, in as much detail as possible and also to describe in detail the feelings that the trauma evoked. The aim is to is to encapsulate, as far as possible, the whole traumatic episode/s in words.

Why is this important? It is thought that this process of capturing what happened in words places the memory more under control of a brain structure called the NEOCORTEX; this makes the reactions the memories lead to more manageable.

Because this all takes place in a safe environment, the PTSD sufferer is able to start to associate the traumatic memory with feelings of safety and relative calm as opposed to terror.

Once this has been achieved the therapist encourages the individual to mourn what the trauma and resultant PTSD caused him/her to lose. This mourning of what has been lost marks the ability to start to let go of the trauma itself.

– STEP 3 RE-ETABLISHING A NORMAL LIFE : this final stage can now take place, in which the individual can begin to rebuild his/her life. Physiological symptoms drop to a manageable level as do feelings connected with the memory of the trauma.

I hope you have found this post helpful.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Trauma: How Cognitive Processing Therapy can Help.

It is always important to treat post-traumatic stress and this is particularly the case in relation to childhood trauma. This is because it is during childhood that we form our core beliefs about ourselves, others and the world in general. Childhood trauma can severely distort these beliefs in a highly destructive manner. Without treatment, these damaging views and beliefs can endure for a life-time, blighting the entire life of the affected individual, even ruining it.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a particular type of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and there is now much evidence from research studies that it can prove highly effective in the treatment of the effects of trauma:

Frequently, individuals who have suffered childhood trauma find themselves in a perpetual and distressing struggle with painful memories. Thoughts about these often become circular and overwhelming, never reaching a resolution. The person experiencing them can feel more and more conflicted as time goes on if effective treatment is not sought.Indeed, many who seek therapy do so because they find they have become ‘stuck’ or ‘caught up’ in their painful thoughts, memories and feelings and they feel unable to properly integrate or make sense these.

CPT helps people to understand what they went through, how it affected them, and how it has affected, in a negative and distorted way, their view of themselves, others and the world in general (psychologists refer to such thinking as a ‘negative cognitive triad’, one of the key symptoms of clinical depression).

CPT aims to help individuals rectify this negative cognitive triad and gain AUTHORITY over their trauma-related memories and feelings, or, to put it another way, CPT helps people to be IN CONTROL OF THEIR MEMORIES AND RELATED FEELINGS, rather than the other way around.

Many individuals who have experienced childhood trauma, also, very frequently, find themselves ‘living in the past’: continually brooding on what happened, why it happened and how it has adversely affected their lives; such ruminations may become obsessive. CPT helps break this pattern of thinking: one of the key elements of CPT is to help people CREATE A BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE PRESENT so that the individual can free him/herself to finally live in the ‘now’ rather than the ‘then’.

For more information about CBT and help for recovery from trauma a good site is: http://www.psychologytools.org/ptsd.html

Because I found CBT very useful in my own recovery, and, additionally, because it has a very solid evidence base showing that it is an effective therapy, I have listed links to two online CBT courses below :

I found CBT an important part of my recovery and therefore highly recommend A Clinically Proven Online CBT Course For Panic and Anxiety Disorder Created By Professional Therapists. Adheres to the Ethical Guidelines set down by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists (BABCP). FREE 30 DAY TRIAL.Click Here!

CBT program to address anxiety featuring the A.W.A.K.E.method. Full refund within 15 days of purchase if unsuitable. Click Here!.

I hope you have found this post of interest. Please click on the FOLLOW icon if you would like instant notification of new posts. New posts are added to this site at least twice per week. You are also welcome, of course, to leave a comment, to which I will reply as soon as I am able.

Best Wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma: Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR

Individuals who have suffered severe childhood trauma may, as a result of it, later suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or similar condition. Some professionals advocate a relatively new technique which aims to address this; it is known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

WHAT IS EMDR?

The therapist administering EMDR will first examine the issues related to the individual’s psychological difficulties and, also, help him/her develop strategies to aid in relaxation and deal with stress. After this, the therapist encourages the individual to recall particular traumas, whilst, simultaneously, manipulating his/her eye movements by instructing him/her to follow the movements the therapist is making with a pen, or similar object, in front of the individual’s face). The theory is that this will facilitate the individual in effectively reprocessing his/her traumatic experiences, thus alleviating psychological distress.

THIS SOUNDS A LITTLE ODD; WHAT IS THE RATIONALE BEHIND EMDR AND, HOW, EXACTLY, IS IT THOUGHT TO WORK?

My first reaction to hearing about this particular therapy was that it sounded somewhat strange. However, the rationale behind EMDR is that disturbing memories from childhood need to be PROPERLY PROCESSED by the brain in order to alleviate symptoms associated with having experienced childhood trauma (eg PTSD, as already mentioned); this is because the view is taken that it is the UNRESOLVED TRAUMA that is the cause of the psychiatric difficulties the individual who presents him/herself for treatment is suffering. Those professionals who recommend the therapy believe that the EYE MOVEMENTS INDUCED BY THE THERAPIST IN THE INDIVIDUAL BEING TREATED LEAD TO NEUROLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL CHANGES IN THE BRAIN WHICH AID IN THE EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMATIC MEMORY, and, in this way, ameliorates psychological problems from which the individual had been suffering.

 

WHAT ARE THE STAGES INVOLVED IN EMDR THERAPY?

These are briefly outlined below:

1) The first stage is the identification of the specific memory/memories which underlie the trauma.

2) Next, the individual is asked to identify particular negative beliefs he/she links to the memory (e.g. ‘I am worthless’)

3) Then, the individual being treated is asked to replace the negative belief with a positive belief (e.g .’I am strong enough to recover’ or ‘I am a person of value with potential to have a bright future’ etc)

4) In the fourth stage, the therapist moves a pen (or similar object) in various, predetermined motions in front of the individual’s face and he/she is instructed to follow the movements with his/her eyes (e.g repeatedly left and right). Whilst this is going on, the therapist instructs the individual to simply, non-judgmentally observe his/her own thoughts, letting them come and go freely and without trying to influence them in any way – just to accept them, in other words, and let them happen.

5) This procedure is repeated several times.

Each time the process is undertaken, the therapist asks the individual being treated to rate how much distress he/she feels – this continues until his/her self-reported level of distress becomes very low. Similarly, each time the process is undertaken, the individual is asked to report how strongly he/she now feels he/she believes in the positive idea given in stage 3 (see examples provided above); therapy is only concluded once the level of reported belief becomes very high.

N.B. The therapy is actually more involved than this, so the above should only be taken as a brief outline. There are, too, different variations of procedure outlined above which can be employed within the EMDR range of therapies available.

 

EMDR CAN HELP UNBLOCK TRAUMATIC INFORMATION HELD IN THE BRAIN AND HELP US TO HEALTHILY INTEGRATE IT INTO OUR LIFE STORY AS A WHOLE :

When we suffer severe trauma we are not able to fully mentally process what it is that has happened to us and the trauma becomes mentally entrenched – in other words, what happened to us becomes locked or ‘stuck’ in our memory network. The effect of this may include us experiencing various symptoms such as irrational beliefs, painful emotions, anxiety and fears, flashbacks, nightmares and phobias. It may well also cause blocked energy and greatly reduce our self-efficacy.

When we experience events that trigger memories of the trauma, images, sounds, physical sensations and beliefs which echo the original experience of the trauma cause our perception of current events to be distorted.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can unblock this traumatic information and thus allow us to healthily mentally integrate it with our other life experiences and our life story as a whole.

Trauma can occur in the form of SHOCK TRAUMA and DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA. Shock trauma consists of a sudden threat which is overwhelming and/or life threatening – it occurs as a single episode such as a violent attack, rape or a natural disaster. Developmental trauma, on the other hand, refers to a series of events which occur over a period of time. These events GRADUALLY ALTER THE PERSON’S NEUROLOGICAL SYSTEM to the point that it REMAINS IN THE TRAUMATIC STATE. This, in turn, can cause interruption in the child’s long-term psychological growth. Experiences which can lead to developmental trauma include : abandonment by parent, long term separation from parent, an unsafe environment, an unstable environment, neglect, serious illness, physical and/or sexual abuse or betrayal by a care giver.

The effects of developmental trauma include damaging the child’s sense of self. self-esteem, self-definition and self-confidence. Also, the child’s sense of safety and security in the world will be seriously undermined. This makes it far more likely that the individual will experience further trauma in life as an adult as his/her sense of fear and helplessness remain unresolved.

EMDR works by allowing the locked or ‘stuck’ traumatic information to be properly, mentally processed. This leads to the disturbing information becoming psychologically resolved and integrated.

HOW DOES EMDR ACTUALLY WORK?

EMDR is based on the idea that it is our memories which form the basis of our PERCEPTIONS, ATTITUDES and BEHAVIOURS. Because, as we have already established, traumatic memories fail to be properly processed they lead to these perceptions, attitudes and behaviours becoming DISTORTED and DYSFUNCTIONAL. In effect, the trauma is too large and too complex to be properly processed so it remains ‘STUCK’ and DYSFUNCTIONALLY STORED. This often leads to MALADAPTIVE ATTEMPTS TO PROCESS AND RESOLVE THE INFORMATION CONNECTED TO THE TRAUMA SUCH AS FLASHBACKS AND NIGHTMARES (Sharpio, 2001).

When this problem occurs it is EMDR which is being increasingly turned to allow effective processing and mental healing to occur. I will look in more detail at what EMDR involves in later posts.

 

WHAT DO EVALUATION STUDIES OF EMDR THERAPY SUGGEST ABOUT ITS EFFECTIVENESS?

A recent meta-analysis of evidence (ie an overview of a large number of particular, individual studies of EMDR) supported the claim that it is effective, as have other meta-analyses. However, some researchers have suggested that it is not the EYE MOVEMENT PART of the therapy which is of benefit, but only the act of repeatedly recalling traumatic memories which is the effective component (based on the idea that these repeated mental exposures, under close supervision and in a supportive and safe environment, of the traumatic memories alone facilitates their therapeutic reprocessing).

In response to this criticism, its exponents (and there are many professionals who are), regard the EYE MOVEMENT COMPONENT of the therapy as ESSENTIAL in giving rise to the NECESSARY NEUROLOGICAL CHANGES which allow the EFFECTIVE REPROCESSING OF THE TRAUMA; these proponents also emphasize that the therapy only requires short exposures to the traumatic memory/memories, thus giving it an advantage over therapies which utilize far more protracted exposures.

Research into EMDR is ongoing.

eBooks :

borderline personality disorder ebook

 

Both above eBooks available on Amazon for immediate download. CLICK HERE.

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

Top