PTSD can be treated, and you can become symptom-free in 5-6 hours of therapy!
What is PTSD
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health diagnosis given to people who suffer from a severe reaction to trauma (more about that later!).
People who suffer from PTSD experience nightmares and/or flashbacks and their symptoms affect their ability to function in everyday life. They may also experience other symptoms such as mood disturbance, depression, anxiety, or difficulties with relationships. Some people also experience some medical symptoms such as skin disorders, fibromyalgia, chest pain or digestive problems.
PTSD happens when a person is not able to process their trauma and the traumatic experience gets stuck in their flight/fight/freeze part of their brain known as the amygdala. This then results in them being ‘triggered’ by certain things that remind them of the initial trauma. The amygdala then reacts and it as if the trauma is happening all over again for them, as if it was the first time.
People with PTSD develop a catalogue of coping mechanisms to manage their symptoms. For some it might be keeping away from the known triggers or avoiding people, others might use drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms.
What do we mean by trauma?
Trauma with a BIG T – this might be events such as combat related trauma for those who have served in the military; front line emergency services such as police, fire service or ambulance personnel; health care workers faced with the effects of caring for people with Covid-19. Often the person can tell you the exact event and may even describe the event as if they were talking about someone else. They may even be completely without emotion as they tell you about the event. Other people may not be able to refer to it at all, and the slightest suggestion of having to mention it can be enough to trigger a flashback or trauma reaction as if the event were happening all over again. This might be referred to as ‘acting out’.
Trauma with a LITTLE t – sometimes people can experience a series of different small events that may or may not be related. This collection of events can eventually lead to PTSD. Eventually the brain cannot cope any more and the amygdala takes over, with the person going into a flight, fight or freeze response. This may be referred to as complex PTSD or CPTSD.
Treatments that work
Fortunately, there are some treatments that work (Kitchiner, 2019). Trauma Focussed CBT is shown to work in around 35% of cases. Some people have found it helpful although some people don’t like it because they are required to talk about their traumatic experiences which can be enough to trigger further flashbacks.
A new therapeutic approach called the Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories (RTM) has been developed. In clinical trials, it is shown to have a success rate of more than 90%, and the results remain as good when measured over one-year post-treatment (Gray et al 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020). This is unprecedented when compared to other treatments.
The RTM is non – traumatizing. Therapists using the RTM are taught how to notice if the client is triggered even before the client realises it. This means that clients don’t ever have to face the full impact of their trauma. Clients typically have 3-4 sessions of therapy, each session lasting up to 90 minutes.
There are RTM therapists around the USA and Europe, with many of these therapists able to offer online therapy.
Training to be an RTM therapist is also quick, just 4 days of training. Only licensed therapists may be trained in the protocol as they already have all the other skills necessary to keep you safe and make sure they are able to assess you and work with you on other issues that might come up during therapy. Each therapist is assessed in using the protocol on 2 clients from start to finish before they are licensed to use the protocol.
There is lots you can do to help yourself if you have symptoms of PTSD. Good quality sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise are all known to aid a positive mental health. Equally there are some good meditation apps available to help with relaxation and mood problems.
Lisa de Rijk, PhD, is a psychologist, psychotherapist and Visiting Research Fellow, Kings College, London.
She is also clinical training director for the Research and Recognition Project.