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What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is characterised by sufferers persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event, through intrusive recollections, distressing dreams, or flashbacks. Sufferers may also try to cope through avoiding things that may be associated with the event, or memory. They may also experience mood and other changes such as irritability, anger, concentration difficulties, hypervigilance or being startled easily.

According to both the Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue, post-traumatic stress disorder is a group of stress reactions that can develop in people who have been through OR witnessed a traumatic event.  This can include but is not limited to; death, serious injury or sexual violence to ourselves or to others, war or torture and/or disasters such as bushfires or floods. As a result of a traumatic event such as these a person can develop or experience PSTD symptoms including but not limited to; feelings of intense fear, helplessness, horror and/or anger.

Who can experience PTSD?

Anyone who is exposure to a traumatic event can develop PTSD. An individual is at a greater risk if the event involved deliberate harm such as physical or sexual assault or they have had repeated traumatic experiences such as childhood sexual abuse or living in a war zone. Beyond Blue reports that around 12 per cent of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime.

Can Psychological Debriefing help?

Psychological debriefing or critical incident debriefing is a meeting with people affected by an incident, not a therapy session per se. It aims to give participants an opportunity to discuss what has happened, allow expression of emotions, and understand what are ‘normal’ reactions to trauma.

However, according to recent research this may not help everyone. “Many survivors of a traumatic event, such as disaster, assault or accident, do not go on to develop PTSD.”

“It has been suggested that, for these people, too much discussion or information may do them more harm than good,” suggests Dr Stan Steindl, Clinical Psychologists.

“Debriefing does allow people who want it to ask questions and obtain answers,” Stan said, “And as such we provide a voluntary ‘diffusing’ service that provides trauma victims with emotional support and practical advice without burdening them with too much information or the vicariously traumatic experiences of others affected.”

Such a diffusing process also allows for the early assessment of posttraumatic stress symptoms, which can then be used to guide future psychological intervention such as CBT where necessary.

“There are many symptoms that are common and normal reactions to traumatic events. These will generally lessen over a number of weeks.”

Emotional symptoms include: Fear, anger, frustration, wanting to escape, anxiety, disbelief, irritability, sadness, depression, helplessness, and feelings of guilt and shame.

Cognitive symptoms include: intrusive thoughts, bad dreams, nightmares, and vivid recall of events.

Physical symptoms include: being easily startled, dizziness, difficult breathing, heart palpitations, tension, fatigue, and hyperactivity.

Behavioural symptoms include: having trouble making decisions, withdrawal, angered, sleep problems, mood swings, poor concentration, and increased use of alcohol or drugs.

“Assessing for these symptoms early and providing follow-up care for those who need it is a recommended course of action,” said Stan.

Quite apart from professional support trauma victims can help themselves.

Helping yourself

  • Acknowledge the trauma.
  • Seek support if you need it.
  • Exercise, eat well, and rest.
  • Reduce your substance use, especially if you find they are ‘numbing’ your feelings.
  • Help others if you think it may help you cope.
  • Write about your feelings.

Psychology Consultants psychologists are experienced in providing individual, group and corporate debriefing sessions. Please contact us for further information.

PTSD AND SLEEP

By Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith & Psychiatrist, Curt Gray

Trauma regularly touches our community. Watch the evening news and you will witness traumatic events like car accidents, assaults, hold ups, natural disaster, terrorism and war.

Experiencing a traumatic event or the atrocities of war can have a marked impact on people’s lives.  While most people are able to recover from trauma, others go on to develop psychological disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is characterized by sufferers persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event, through intrusive recollections, distressing dreams, or flashbacks. Sufferers may also try to cope through avoiding things that may be associated with the event, or memory. They may also experience mood and other changes such as irritability, anger, concentration difficulties, hypervigilance or being startled easily.

But consistent amongst PTSD sufferers is disturbed sleep with symptoms of increased arousal, nightmares, dream re-enactment on occasion, and excessive movements during sleep. Many of these problems contribute to insomnia.

Recent studies by University of Calfornia’s Berkeley research team led by Prof. Matthew Walker found that REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the vivid dreaming stage of sleep that comprises 20% of a normal person’s sleep cycle, is compromised in PTSD sufferers. This has significant implications for well-being and recovery.

“The dream stage of sleep, based on its unique neurochemical composition, provides us with a form of overnight therapy, a soothing balm that removes the sharp edges from the prior day’s emotional experiences,” explains Dr Walker.

The good news is treatment can help to improve sleep disturbance in PTSD, particularly taking a holistic approach that combines psychological treatment like cognitive behavioural therapy and image rehearsal therapy with medication for sleep.

Reducing feelings of stress is imperative when on the road to emotional and mental recovery after experiencing trauma. A few simple ways to help improve sleep health include:

  • Making sure your sleep environment feels safe and comfortable. If darkness causes feelings of anxiety, which is common amongst PTSD sufferers, try keeping the room dimly lit.
  • Avoid watching the news before bed.
  • Develop a relaxation routine before bed.  This can be as simple as a warm bath or listening to relaxing music.
  • Avoid stimulants like coffee after 3pm.
  • Try not to consume more than one alcoholic drink within 3 hours of bed.

Psychology Consultants run a long standing group programme for insomnia sufferers called Towards Better Sleep, a cognitive behavioural treatment programme that uses evidenced based techniques that focus on sleep education, behavioural techniques, correction of unhelpful thinking about sleep and insomnia, and relaxation strategies.

Visit www.towardsbettersleep.com.au for more information on our group insomnia programme or talk to your GP about the suitability of this programme for you.

TRYING TO FORGET THE UNFORGETTABLE- MUSING ON PTSD AND SLEEP

By Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith

Lest We Forget will be pledged across the nation this Anzac Day as we approach 100 years since Gallipoli but for many of our veterans and ex-servicemen, forgetting the unforgettable seems a challenge too great.

Trauma regularly touches our community. Watch the evening news and you will witness traumatic events like car accidents, assaults, hold ups, natural disaster, terrorism and war.

Experiencing a traumatic event or the atrocities of war can have a marked impact on people’s lives.  While most people are able to recover from trauma, others go on to develop psychological disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is characterized by sufferers persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event, through intrusive recollections, distressing dreams, or flashbacks. Sufferers may also try to cope through avoiding things that may be associated with the event, or memory. They may also experience mood and other changes such as irritability, anger, concentration difficulties, hypervigilance or being startled easily.

But consistent amongst PTSD sufferers is disturbed sleep with symptoms of increased arousal, nightmares, dream re-enactment on occasion, and excessive movements during sleep. Many of these problems contribute to insomnia.

Recent studies by University of Calfornia’s Berkeley research team led by Prof. Matthew Walker found that REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the vivid dreaming stage of sleep that comprises 20% of a normal person’s sleep cycle, is compromised in PTSD sufferers. This has significant implications for well-being and recovery.

“The dream stage of sleep, based on its unique neurochemical composition, provides us with a form of overnight therapy, a soothing balm that removes the sharp edges from the prior day’s emotional experiences,” explains Dr Walker.

The good news is treatment can help to improve sleep disturbance in PTSD, particularly taking a holistic approach that combines psychological treatment like cognitive behavioural therapy and image rehearsal therapy with medication for sleep.

Reducing feelings of stress is imperative when on the road to emotional and mental recovery after experiencing trauma. A few simple ways to help improve sleep health include:

  • Making sure your sleep environment feels safe and comfortable. If darkness causes feelings of anxiety, which is common amongst PTSD sufferers, try keeping the room dimly lit.
  • Avoid watching the news before bed.
  • Develop a relaxation routine before bed.  This can be as simple as a warm bath or listening to relaxing music.
  • Avoid stimulants like coffee after 3pm.
  • Try not to consume more than one alcoholic drink within 3 hours of bed.

Psychology Consultants run a long standing group programme for insomnia sufferers called Towards Better Sleep, a cognitive behavioural treatment programme that uses evidenced based techniques that focus on sleep education, behavioural techniques, correction of unhelpful thinking about sleep and insomnia, and relaxation strategies.

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