What is trauma?
A traumatic event is something that threatens your life or safety, or the lives of the people around you. Many people experience traumatic events over the course of their lifetime; some estimates are as high as 8 in 10 people! Traumatic incidents range from childhood sexual and physical abuse, to motor vehicle accidents, physical assaults, rape, robberies, natural disasters, and critical incidents experienced in occupational settings, such as the Police, Fire Brigade, Paramedics, and other emergency service workers.
How can trauma effect people?
Often, people can experience repeated intrusive memories of the incident, nightmares, heightened arousal and emotional reactivity, sleep problems, alcohol or other drug problems, and at times, may feel suicidal. Some individual’s feel emotionally disconnected from others around them, and may be left feeling “numb” after they experience a trauma. It is common for veterans to experience difficulties managing anger and to feel disconnected from family and loved ones.
Post traumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) effects about 7% of people throughout their lifetime, and is among the most common stress/anxiety related mental disorder. For PTSD to be considered a diagnosis, a person must have experienced exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence through either direct experience, witnessing, or learning that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or friend.
PTSD typically involves four clusters of symptoms including intrusive symptoms (e.g. memories of trauma), avoidance symptoms, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and arousal and reactivity symptoms. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) requires that at least one symptom in each of these clusters be present for at least one month and be associated with significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
There are various models of therapy that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of PTSD and other associated trauma difficulties. The most evidence-based therapies are trauma-focused psychotherapies, including prolonged exposure (PE), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR).
Trauma-focused means that the treatment focuses on the memory of the trauma and it’s meaning. Different techniques are used within these models of treatment to help an individual process their traumatic experience. They may involve visualising, talking, or thinking about the traumatic memory. It may also involve changing unhelpful beliefs about the trauma and may include helpful strategies for regulating emotions, coping with returning to work, and improving family relationships. Treatment usually lasts for 8-16 sessions if there is a single incident of trauma experienced, but it may take longer if there are repeated experiences of trauma experienced or if a person has other mental health difficulties.
Prolonged Exposure (PE)
Teaches you how to gain control by facing your negative feelings. It involves talking about your trauma with a provider and doing some of the things you have avoided since the trauma.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Teaches you to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. It involves talking with your provider about your negative thoughts and doing short writing assignments.
Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Helps you process and make sense of your trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone).
The role of a GP
The role of GPs in managing PTSD is central and should include:
- provision of initial support and monitoring (eg psychological first aid)
- early detection, initial assessment and supportive management
- use of initial pharmacotherapy
- appropriate and timely referral for specialist treatment
- support of family and carers
- crisis assistance
- management of comorbid medical conditions
- maintenance treatment for chronic conditions
It is important to seek psychological help if you are experiencing any of the symptoms aforementioned. Marsden Clinical Psychology have expert psychologists servicing Wollongong and the greater Illawarra region that can assess your current psychological difficulties and provide you with an individualised treatment plan.
Call us on 0411 542 624 or submit an enquiry on our website by going to the Book an Appointment page.
If you have a GP, it would be beneficial to make an extended appointment to have a GP Mental Health Treatment Plan developed. Together with a referral to us, you will then be eligible for a rebate from Medicare on each psychological treatment session.