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Responding to people’s trauma

Trauma regularly touches our community. Events like car accidents, assaults, hold ups, and natural and man made disasters seem to happen all too often. Experiencing a traumatic event can have a marked impact on people’s lives.

The possible psychological effects of trauma are now fairly well defined. While some people are able to get on with their lives, others may have great difficulty “forgetting” the memory, causing them to develop a number of symptoms that are collectively referred to as posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

If a person has experienced an event in which they were exposed to death or serious injury and felt intense fear, helplessness or horror during the event, then further assessment of their mental state is recommended.

To screen such a person for PTSD, consider the following questions.

Is the person persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event through intrusive recollections, distressing dreams or flashbacks?

Is the person persistently avoiding things that may be associated with the trauma, like certain topics of conversations, places, people or activities, or certain memories?

Is the person persistently experiencing symptoms of increased arousal, like sleeping difficulties, irritability or anger, concentration difficulties, hypervigilance or being startled easily?

Once established, the likely prognosis of the disorder can be determined through assessment of a number of other “risk factors”. Following is a checklist of risk factors that should be investigated:

  • Severe trauma including grotesque injury or death,
  • Comorbid psychiatric disorder present,
  • A positive lifetime history of another psychiatric disorder,
  • A history of separation or abuse during childhood,
  • A family history of psychiatric disorder,
  • Other life stressors present concurrently, and
  • Little social support available.

A person diagnosed with PTSD is likely to benefit from psychological treatment. The aim of this approach is to assist the person to process the event and develop an appropriate interpretation of it. One of the key components for achieving this is, in the context of a supportive therapeutic relationship, to conduct systematic and graded imagined and real life exposure to the trauma related stimuli.

Psychology Consultants can provide assessments, reports and treatment for those who have experienced a traumatic event.

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