Counselling for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) in Berkhamsted
What is PTSD?
Post traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD for short) is something human beings have been suffering with for a very long time, however it was only formally classified as a distinct disorder in 1980.
Much of the early experiences of our understanding about trauma came from studying the effects of war and conflict on soldiers. In those early days we used to use the term ‘shell shocked’ to refer the experiences that many soldiers suffered after the horrors of war. It’s now better understood and called post traumatic stress disorder. We also know that it’s not just soldiers who suffer from it.
PTSD can develop in anyone after experiences which are intensely disturbing, painful and too shocking to cope with and integrate at the time. Some theorists like Psychologist Stanley Rachman have theorised that this in part is what Post traumatic stress disorder is - it’s our attempts to emotionally and psychologically process an experience after it happens, this processing, or ‘drive to complete’ as it’s sometimes called is something our minds are driven to do in order to make sense of the world and ourselves.
While people with PTSD can suffer in different ways with different symptoms, it would be common for people to experience episodes in which they’re ability to live normally is drastically reduced. The symptoms of PTSD are often intensely intrusive and involve being swamped and flooded by a range of physical and emotional symptoms.
Every person with PTSD will experience their own unique variation of it and cope with it in their own way. It’s also important to highlight that it’s possible to be traumatised and not know that you’re traumatised. Part of how we deal with trauma is to dissociate from it, desensitise ourselves and diminish the emotional impacts of the experience. This can lead people to being unaware of how impacted they’ve been by what they’ve experienced. Often this lack of awareness is something that actually keeps the trauma stuck in this persistent, repetitive and unprocessed state.
What causes PTSD and how common is it?
Why some people develop PTSD and others don’t is not fully understood but it’s currently thought to be a mixture of biological factors, different personality styles and coping mechanisms for stress and previous experience of trauma. How people experience trauma is in part determined by how that trauma is experienced in the context of the rest of the person’s life and their history.
Take for example somebody who has grown up in a household where they learnt to bury their feelings and ‘get on with it’. Faced with inescapable emotional pain, this rule born of the persons conditioning will interact with their traumatic experience and determine what they do with how they feel.
It’s thought that around 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.
It’s important to highlight that what is traumatic for one person is different for what’s traumatic for another. Trauma is always a unique experience and nobody can judge or diagnose what is or isn’t ‘legitimate’ trauma. It’s common for people to compare their trauma to others and conclude that their own trauma is illegitimate in some way. Such diminishing of pain is an understandable survival mechanism but it often is what keeps people stuck.
How does therapy help PTSD?
The social psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman proposed that in part what makes trauma so difficult is that it shatters our core-assumptions about the world, ourselves, other people, and life itself. Therapy helps people make sense of how this process is happening inside themselves as a result of what they’ve experienced in an emotionally safe and supported environment. What’s known about PTSD is that social support is a key factor in whether a person develops it and how they recover from it, and therapy or counselling is one such supportive environment. It’s an environment in which somebody has the freedom to feel and talk about their experiences without judgement or coercion and neuroscience tells us that this kind of environment and contact between people promotes emotional regulation at the level of the brain. What therapy also helps to do is help somebody uncover how the trauma they’ve experienced has affected how they think and feel about themselves and the world. For the sufferer of trauma this is very hard to do on their own because they’re living inside the experience, it sometimes take somebody skilled alongside the person to help the person make sense of their experience which in turn increases awareness and the possibility of healing.
I offer counselling and hypnotherapy in berkhamsted, if you’re suffering with trauma and you’d like help please feel free to get in touch.