Involved in, or witnessed, a traumatic event?
When you’re dealing with trauma, you may be experiencing an array of frightening symptoms. This page is here to give you a brief oversight of trauma, including:
- timing of symptoms
- traumatic events
- and treatment
If you’ve landed here because you feel traumatised at the moment, I really want you to know that you have every chance of getting better. And I so hope I can help you to get there. If you’re suffering from Post-Trauma Symptoms or PTSD, recovery really doesn’t have to mean years of therapy either.
Timing of the trauma and its symptoms
If you were involved in – or witnessed – a traumatic event, your reaction may depend to some extent on when it exactly happened.
If you’ve very recently been traumatised, there’s every hope that you’ll begin to feel better within 2 – 4 weeks, if not before. Whatever you’re feeling now is very likely to be absolutely normal.
If it happened 4-6 weeks ago and you’re still really upset about it, now is the time to seek help. Trauma counselling can help you to deal with it and overcome the distressing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is diagnosed by a mental health professional.
If you were fine before the event and you haven’t suffered any mental health problems before, you may only need two or three sessions. However, please don’t be disappointed if it does take a little longer.
If you went through quite a traumatic time as a youngster, your recent trauma may re-awaken old memories. Whether you’re suffering from the results of past trauma or recent post-traumatic stress/PTSD, you can recover!
What kind of events can be considered potentially ‘traumatic’?
What is considered a ‘traumatic’ event is to a large extent very personal. However, this list identifies the most commonly recognised potentially traumatic events:
- industrial accident
- road traffic/car accident
- Traumatic Birth
- fighting a war
- reporting on a war
- terrorist attack
- hostage situation
- watching your child receive traumatic medical treatment
- work-related incident (e.g. fire and rescue, police, ambulance, medical)
- traumatic medical treatment, stroke
- witnessing a traumatic event, particularly if you are/were close to the victim/casualty
- victim of crime
Witnessed a traumatic event?
Witnessing a traumatic event can be just as difficult as directly experiencinga traumatic event. A witnessed incident is potentially traumatic if there’s some element of it that personalises it for you, for example if it involved:
- a child of the same age as yours
- someone doing the same job as you
- someone driving the same car as you
- somone who is the same age as your brother
- someone with similar circumstances to you, and so on
If you’ve witnessed a traumatic event – particularly if it involved people close to you – the above symptoms time-scale is relevant for you too.
You get up every day, you do your job, you do with the children and the chores – YOU HAVE COURAGE!
Is debriefing needed?
‘Emotional debriefing’ (as opposed to operational debriefing, for example as used by the police) is now not considered helpful – at least not in individual sessions. There appears to be little agreement on whether it’s useful in groups.
On the whole, debriefing is not often needed: as human beings, we can generally come to terms with even significant traumatic events quite naturally – in a supportive environment.
We usually adapt to, absorb and/or manage the changes that have taken place as a result of a trauma. Those changes can be external, or internal – ‘inside our head’. Supportive people around us, rest and the natural passage of time all help.
The aftermath – anything positive?
It’s possible that when you’re over the horrible symptoms brought about by a trauma, you can begin to see that in some way, some good has come of it.
I’m almost biting my lip as I write this, because the experience of trauma is so personal. If you’re reading this soon after a traumatic experience I can totally understand if you want to take issue with me on that statement!
However, you may begin to feel that you’ve overcome something, and that you’ve survived. You may even feel pleased about the way you acted at the time, or the way that you’ve dealt with the difficulties post-incident.
When you’re beginning to recover, try to discover any positive aspects of what’s happened. For example, you might have an increased appreciation of personal relationships, you may have discovered a new zest for life, or even a feeling of strength.
Can trauma counselling help?
If you’re left with frightening symptoms – even many years after the event – ‘trying to forget’ and ‘pulling yourself together’ just don’t work.
If this is your situation, I suspect you’ve given yourself a hard time for not being able to get on top things. You may also have become increasingly isolated.
Trauma counselling really can help if you’re struggling in your own situation. However, it’s worth being aware that your counsellor needs to be skilled in trauma work specifically.
Your memories don’t have to be your taskmasters
Your traumatic memories can be treated, maybe even in just a few sessions – even if the event happened years ago. The memory can be de-traumatised with a safe, non-intrusive and reliable technique.
- Visual Kinaesthetic Dissociation (VKD), often called the ‘rewind’ technique (but really being what’s called: trauma-focused ‘imaginal exposure’ with guided relaxation) doesn’t require you to tell your counsellor any details about the trauma if you don’t want to talk about it.
- Eye Movement and Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) too is a well-recognised, and often very effective, treatment for PTSD.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) involves tapping on acupuncture points. I personally have had some great results with that too.
- Counselling for PTSD can help you to move on with your life. It can give you the opportunity to consider how you’ve lived with the trauma. It can also show you how you’ve adapted your life to try and avoid being confronted by any reminders of the trauma.
You may find that several aspects of your life have been impacted… and that you were completely unaware of those effects.
Treating any post-traumatic stress or PTSD
PTSD can be treated quickly and effectively in the majority of cases. Whilst excellent results can often be obtained within just a few sessions, sometimes a longer course of counselling may be helpful – particularly if the trauma is related to years of abuse.
The most important message I want you to take away from this article is that you can recover, and you can get your life back together again. I have every confidence in you.