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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Trauma and treatment

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), many people experience traumatic events at some point in their lives, but only 8 per cent of people will be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

From 2014 to 2016, Calgary Counselling Centre had 246 clients seek counselling to help cope with symptoms of PTSD. While these clients identified PTSD as their main reason for seeking counselling services, we also saw a large number of clients who indicated feelings such as intense anxiety, social isolation and depression which were later determined to have resulted from their PTSD.

Annemarie Rued-Fraser, Registered Psychologist and trauma expert at Calgary Counselling Centre, explains the neurological aspect of PTSD. She says that PTSD often occurs when an individual experiences an event in which they feel powerless and their survival is threatened. When the trauma occurs, the individual experiences a disconnect between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, resulting in certain memories of the traumatic event(s) being repeated. Essentially the individual’s fight or flight response is heightened and they no longer have the control or ability to distinguish the past from the present. This is also referred to as a flashback.

PTSD can lead an individual to not trust themselves in any environment because the brain is forcing them to re-live the event over and over at any given time.

Who does PTSD affect?

CMHA research states it is unclear why trauma causes PTSD in some people but not others, but it’s likely linked to many different factors. These factors may include the length of time the trauma lasted, the number of other traumatic experiences in a person’s life, their reaction to the event, and the kind of support they received after the event. Ultimately, who PTSD affects is determined in part by the meaning the individual places on the event(s).

PTSD can affect anyone, and at Calgary Counselling Centre we are committed to continuing to provide the best counselling treatments, we have the highest client results, with no waitlists and no financial barriers. This means you are able to get the help you need, when you need it.

Types of Trauma

Every individual’s experience with trauma is different and there are a number of events that can result in PTSD including but not limited to:

  • Childhood trauma
    • School/ community violence
    • Neglect
    • Physical abuse
    • Sexual abuse
    • Emotional abuse and psychological maltreatment
  • Medical trauma
    • Procedures
    • Undergoing labour (birth)
    • Invasive surgery
  • Loss and grief
  • Natural disasters, such as
    • Hurricane
    • Earthquake
    • Fire
    • Drought
  • Crime
    • Physical and sexual assault
    • Domestic violence
    • Burglary, mugging or hold-up
  • War
    • Refugee trauma
    • Combat trauma
    • Terrorism
  • Major accidents
    • Workplace
    • Automobile
    • Airplane

Symptoms of PTSD

People who suffer from PTSD may exhibit a variety of symptoms. The PTSD Association of Canada lists symptoms including but not limited to:

  • Recurring thoughts, flashbacks or nightmares about the trauma
  • Changes in sleep patterns or appetite
  • Anxiety and fear, especially when confronted with events or situations that remind you of the trauma
  • Anxious or overly alert
  • Heightened emotions, such as unexplained crying, feeling of despair and hopelessness or other symptoms of depression
  • Difficulty remembering the trauma
  • Unable to focus on work or daily activities
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Social isolation
  • Disconnection
  • Anger or resentment
  • Guilt
  • Emotional numbness or withdrawal
  • Sudden overprotectiveness and fear for the safety of loved ones
  • Avoidance of activities, places or even people that remind you of the trauma
  • Other physical health problems such as dizziness, upset stomach and sickness

Our Counselling Services

At Calgary Counselling Centre we use a number of different treatments for PTSD.

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is when a counsellor teaches the client skills to help them cope with anxiety and works with them to help adjust harmful thoughts, feelings and behaviours that have resulted from the trauma. CBT is appropriate when a client’s thoughts and behaviours prevent them from making their preferred choices, and can be conducted one-on-one or in a group setting.

Included in the scope of CBT is exposure therapy. In exposure therapy, the client is guided to gradually and carefully engage in situations that expose them to elements of their stressor. The intention is that gradual exposure allows them to master self-regulation to ultimately face their fears and achieve their goals.

Exposure therapy works towards what the client actually wants. For example, a client comes in with PTSD from experiencing a car accident. The initial step is setting the client’s goal for counselling. If the goal is to be able to drive again, the counsellor will then work with the client to create steps to achieving that goal. The first step may be to sit in the driver’s seat, the second to drive the car around the block and so on.

The goal is whatever the client wants for their life (e.g. drive, live independently, date etc.) and the means to achieve this is by pairing gradual exposure with self-soothing and grounding strategies.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-Processing (EMDR)

Uses the brains natural ability to heal by having the client remain in the present using dual attention techniques. The counsellor will lead the client through a series of eye movements to access both sides of the brain simultaneously. This process allows the client to access the sensory memories of the distressing event while remaining in a relaxed and present state. EMDR may result in relief of systems in fewer sessions than standard treatment or no treatment. It is also an effective technique to treat generalized anxiety, OCD, addiction, depression and self-esteem.

Narrative Therapy

Restructures the event by creating new meaning. The counsellor leads the client through a process that re-writes the event from the point of view of the hero, which allows them to access new skills, and strengths that can be used to change the outcome of the trauma.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is often used to treat PTSD as it provides opportunities for the counsellor and client to work towards strategies and resolutions that the client might not be consciously or immediately aware of. Hypnosis can provide clients with ways to better understand feelings and ways to cope with feelings, including grounding and calming, as well as ways to move away from the effects of the trauma.

Hypnosis for PTSD should only be carried out by a trained counsellor in this area.

Containment

Containment and grounding strategies are just two of the techniques our counsellors use to help clients to cope with their PTSD on a day-to-day basis.

Containment strategies are techniques our counsellors use to help clients manage their emotions until they are in a safe and supportive environment where they can re-visit them. One of the strategies we use within containment is developing a protective figure in which our clients are asked to imagine a hero that embodies their core values such as strength, acceptance and courage.

Grounding strategies are techniques to help clients self-soothe. They are used when clients are in a heightened state of emotional arousal. One example of what our counsellors might ask their clients to do when engaging in grounding strategies is to focus on their senses. The client would be asked to focus on five things they see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Through grounding strategies, our counsellors are able to get their clients out of their head and into their body. Anything that requires focused attention can be considered a grounding strategy. These techniques vary in preference from person-to-person.

With treatment, many clients are able to feel comfortable enough to remember the traumatic event without reliving it.

Living with PTSD

There is often a lot of guilt or shame around PTSD because we are often told that we should get over or move on from difficult experiences. In reality, some people may be embarrassed about their PTSD depending on the traumatic event(s) experienced. In some instances, people even feel as though the trauma was their fault. If you experience trauma in your life, it’s important to recognize your symptoms.

Traumatic events can happen anytime and there is never a wrong time to seek help or support.

To register for counselling or to learn more about our additional services, call 403-691-5991 or click here to schedule an appointment with a counsellor today.

To download a PDF document of the most relevant content from this blog click here.

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