Emotional and psychological trauma result from stressful events that you experience or witness that crush your sense of security and may make you feel helpless and vulnerable. Trauma can be caused by a one-off event, such as a bad accident, a natural disaster or a violent attack, or from more prolonged or sustained violence or abuse over many years.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition when the natural recovery from trauma is arrested or delayed. With PTSD, you often relive the event through nightmares and flashbacks. You may have problems concentrating and sleeping and feel isolated and detached. The symptoms are often persistent and severe enough to have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

“PTSD is the delayed recovery from trauma,” said Justin, who is based in Cheltenham and specialises in trauma therapy.

“There are various reasons why people don’t recover from trauma and the symptoms they may experience are generally in three areas.

“The first is intrusive thoughts and images. What happened 20 years ago still feels like it’s happening today. They might have a flashback, which is like a waking nightmare, or indeed disturbed sleep.

“Then there is hyper-arousal, which is almost a rollercoaster of emotions. Suddenly waking up feeling intense fear or you’re doing something in the day and you suddenly get a waft of intense anxiety.

“The third classic symptom is avoiding triggers. So, if you have had a car accident you may not get into a car and avoid activities that might involve the possibility of being in a car.

“The key thing is that, like all physical injuries, we have a natural healing process to deal with trauma.

Disturbed sleep and nightmares

“Nightmares are a reflection of the unprocessed trauma,” said Justin, who has produced a free video to help people with their nightmares.

The video, which can also be used by therapists with clients in session, provides education and offers a solution to stop nightmares which are simple in theory, but not always easy in practice.

“It’s normal to dream after trauma because that is our way of dealing with emotionally intense events,” said Justin. “The nightmares are when that process has got stuck. In a way, nightmares are a direct reflection of the arrested recovery from trauma.

“The connection between my video and treating trauma is if it can try to resolve the nightmares, then that natural recovery process kicks in, which is a bit like getting free therapy every night.

“This means that when we are sleeping more peacefully, overall trauma symptoms reduce. This can then allow remaining trauma to be tackled more safely in therapy.

“Sleep is fundamental. About 5% of the world’s population have regular nightmares, that’s about 500 million people. That has a big impact on your overall health because sleep affects everything.

“Fixing sleep issues first, whether it’s insomnia or nightmares is important. They are primary indicators of health. If you mess up your sleep, it will impact everything else.

 “Although the video I have made may not work for everybody, it does offer some hope to try to resolve nightmares where there is little help currently available and offers a way of stabilising clients to engage with therapy.”

How counselling can help with trauma and PTSD

There are a range of specialist approaches that can be used, including Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma-focused CBT.

Justin says that all trauma is treatable and encourages people to speak to a skilled and experienced therapist.

“EMDR is one of the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) approved, WHO (World Health Organisation) approved trauma treatments,” said Justin. “That is making use of rapid eye movements, which has a similarity to the natural healing process of sleep and dreaming.

“However, it’s important to realise it isn’t a simple technique of just quickly moving eyes from left to right, but a comprehensive psychotherapy that adheres to key tenets of stabilisation, processing and integration.

“EMDR therapists need to have appropriate training in order to be able to practise safely and they need plenty of experience.”

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