What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-Traumatic stress disorder is a clinical term for a specific set of symptoms which can develop following a traumatic life event.

A traumatic event is as when a person experiences a real or perceived threat to their own life or safety, or witnesses (or hears about) a similar threat to somebody else. Common examples of traumatic events include natural disasters, road traffic accidents, illness and physical or sexual attack and abuse.

For somebody to be diagnosed with PTSD it means that they reach a certain “threshold” of having specific symptoms which are defined by one of two diagnostic manuals, the DSM-V and the ICD-10. However, it is also common for people to not quite meet the clinical threshold of PTSD but still be troubled by related trauma symptoms.

The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, feeling persistently anxious and on the look out for danger, nightmares, avoidance of reminders of the event and emotional numbness. All of these symptoms collectively serve to have a significant negative impact upon the individuals overall level of functioning and quality of life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works by teaching you techniques and skill to challenge unhelpful thinking patterns and problem behaviours.

CBT & EMDR For PTSD

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a type of psychotherapy which aims to resolve problems by identifying and changing unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour.

Through working in mental health services for many years, we have seen that the quality and type of therapy offered to individuals with PTSD-related problems can vary, and can deviate quite significantly from “best practice”. After reading through this article, and the article on EMDR for PTSD, you will know what to expect from “gold standard” treatment.

CBT and EMDR are the only two types of treatment recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence for the treatment of PTSD in the UK. If you have PTSD, then you should have trauma-focused CBT or EMDR.

Again, this is presented for information purposes and it is always recommended that you access treatment from an accredited CBT or EMDR therapist. A good therapist will not only be able to deliver these techniques in an effective way, but will also make you feel safe, involved and supported throughout. This is vitally important as working through post-traumatic stress symptoms in therapy effectively can often be an intensely emotional journey.

It’s important that your therapist is sufficiently skilled and is with you all the way. CBT can be used in conjunction with talking therapy and traditional counselling to cope with everyday life and move forward on your journey to recovery.

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What Does CBT Involve for PTSD?

CBT is a very active type of therapy.

CBT is a very active type of therapy. You will typically see your therapist on a weekly session or appointment but you will both agree on a treatment exercise for you to carry out between sessions. This could be in the form of a symptom monitoring diary, or a new activity or some form of behavioural experiment or another exercise. People who actively carry out these between-session tasks tend to recover faster and with less chance of relapse.

 What Is CBT?          What Is EMDR?

CBT for PTSD

Access CBT is an organisation based in Liverpool but helps people all over the world with online therapy and PTSD therapist resources. We work with people with all types of physical health problems and mental health difficulties. We offer professional strategies and services to improve mental well-being for short-term goals and long-term support.

We have expertise in CBT but also many other disciplines such as EMDR and ACT.

Feel free to contact us today to talk about appointments & sessions

Online CBT Therapists

We offer professional online therapy via an appointment-based system to deal with a number of mental health issues and negative patterns. Our cognitive behavioural therapists are here to help you through your mental health journey. Once booked in we will set up a secure video link.

With one off or regular online therapy sessions a person can engage with their current problems and deal with their negative thoughts or difficulties with life experiences.

Feel free to contact us and a professional CBT therapist will get in contact with you to book an appointment.

Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Post-Traumatic stress disorder is a clinical term for a specific set of symptoms which can develop following a traumatic life event.

A traumatic event is as when a person experiences a real or perceived threat to their own life or safety, or witnesses (or hears about) a similar threat to somebody else. Common examples of traumatic events include natural disasters, road traffic accidents, illness and physical or sexual attack and abuse.

For somebody to be diagnosed with PTSD it means that they reach a certain “threshold” of having specific symptoms which are defined by one of two diagnostic manuals, the DSM-V and the ICD-10. However, it is also common for people to not quite meet the clinical threshold of PTSD but still be troubled by related trauma symptoms.

The symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, feeling persistently anxious and on the look out for danger, nightmares, avoidance of reminders of the event and emotional numbness. All of these symptoms collectively serve to have a significant negative impact upon the individuals overall level of functioning and quality of life.

What Keeps Post Traumatic Stress Going?

Therapy for mental health conditions Liverpool: In the simplest of terms, PTSD is maintained by the intense, almost phobic, fear of a memory. When the memory of an event carries with it so much emotional content that it overwhelms us with fear, we may invest a huge amount of effort in trying not to remember it. This avoidance of thinking about the event, what we call thought suppression or cognitive avoidance, means that our brains struggle to deal with the memory properly, leading to the memory remaining “raw” and unprocessed. This means that whenever our the memory gets activated (i.e., when we remember it), we get the full, emotionally intense version of the memory, as though the event was happening again in the here and now.

Take a look at the following example to understand this process further…

Imagine that your brain is like a factory. The main task of this factory is to take all of your sensory experiences (the raw materials) and run these along a conveyor belt, where they are processed and packaged into nice little units which can be stored in our long term memory store for remembering later.

The process involves the brain-factory putting a sort of “date-stamp” on the memory, to let us know that this is an event that happened and it is now part of our story – part of our past. When we want to, we can then go into the long term memory store-room and take out a memory, remember it and forget about it again, knowing that we can remember it again if we ever need to again in future.

Your brain is doing this all of the time and we don’t really ever think about it.

A trauma event is a little different. Whereas our everyday experiences are generally small, ordinary and easy to process without any special effort, a trauma event comes with uncommonly intense (and frightening!) imagery, emotions, sensations and thoughts, all of which require additional processing from the factory to get it into the long term memory store.

That is, the factory needs to put on overtime to process this traumatic experience and get it into the into the long term memory store.

However, because this memory is so out of the ordinary, with all of its unique scary features, whenever the event gets placed on the conveyor belt, we can become overwhelmed by it and shut down the factory.  The processing stops before it is finished.

And so, instead of the memory being processed, date stamped, and packaged into the long term memory store-room, in PTSD we get a raw materials memory, with intense emotion, imagery and sensation at the same intensity as the initial event, as though the event was happening again, in the here and now.

Symptoms Of PTSD

Flashbacks

One of the most recognisable features of PTSD is the experience of having a “Flashback”.

What is a flashback? A flashback is an extremely vivid re-experiencing of the traumatic event, with features that can make the individual believe that the event is happening all over again.

In a flashback, we can experience many of the elements of the original trauma (sights, sounds and smells, etc.) and our body responds with the same fear-based emotions that we experienced at the time of the event.

Some triggers for flashback memories can be extremely subtle which can make the experience even more fear provoking for the individual, almost as if the flashbacks are coming from out of nowhere, whereas others may have clear associations with the initial traumatic event.

Nightmares

Whilst we will all have nightmares occasionally, studies show that people who have PTSD are more likely to have nightmares more often.

Nightmares, like flashbacks, are another part of the “re-experiencing” symptoms that occur within PTSD and occur as part of the brains desire to make sense of the traumatic event and process it into long term memory.  Of course, this leads to poor sleep, which can in turn lead to reduced functioning for the rest of the day.

Nightmares in PTSD can be specific to the traumatic event itself – e.g., replaying through what occurred during the traumatic incident – or can be about a more general sense of threat, guilt, worry or anger.

Hypervigilance in PTSD

Whilst we will all have nightmares occasionally, studies show that people who have PTSD are more likely to have nightmares more often.

Nightmares, like flashbacks, are another part of the “re-experiencing” symptoms that occur within PTSD and occur as part of the brains desire to make sense of the traumatic event and process it into long term memory.  Of course, this leads to poor sleep, which can in turn lead to reduced functioning for the rest of the day.

Nightmares in PTSD can be specific to the traumatic event itself – e.g., replaying through what occurred during the traumatic incident – or can be about a more general sense of threat.

 

Avoidance

Memories are activated by triggers, and this is also true for flashbacks, which are after all just extra-ordinarily vivid memories of a traumatic event.  In PTSD, we will often find that the individual will start to avoid certain places which activate the flashback memory or which they associate the sense of threat with.

What tends to happen however is that, whilst there is one initial trigger that an individual may avoid – say a particular street in which a trauma event occurred, this will gradually generalise to include more broadly associated triggers.  So instead of a single street being avoided, pretty soon a whole area is also avoided.

Avoidance contributes to the sense of threat being maintained in that the individual is not given the opportunity to test out whether the particular trigger is always threatening, rather than it being a one-time trauma event.  As such, avoidance in PTSD is part of what keeps the problem going.

It is not uncommon for people with severe PTSD to experience avoidance so troublesome that even leaving the home becomes extremely anxiety provoking and difficult.

Emotional Numbing

Emotional numbness refers to the absence of, or reduction in, emotional experience in sufferers of PTSD.  Whereas the individual may avoid the emotion of fear by deliberately avoiding situational reminders of the traumatic event, emotional numbness is subtly different – Emotional numbness is an involuntary shutting down of all emotional experience, not just the fear response.

It has been suggested that Numbness occurs as part of the “Freeze” response to threat – “Freezing” is one generally much less often talked about part of the “Fight, Flight or Freeze” response.  When the individual has exhausted (feeling overwhelmed) fight or flight reponses to the threat, numbing kicks in, detaching them from the traumatic experiences.

We may see the Emotional numbness symptoms of PTSD displayed in the individual as a lack of positive emotion, a feeling of disconnection from other people and activities or a lack of hope for the future.

 

What are the physical symptoms of PTSD?

There are a number of physical & emotional symptoms associated with PTSD, including:

  • Hyperarousal
  • Flashbacks
  • Relationships Suffering
  • Shame
  • Addiction (drugs, alcohol)
  • OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Mild Depression, sever depression or low self esteem
  • Eating Disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Anger

Access CBT Clinic - Mental Health Professionals

Access CBT is an organisation based in Liverpool but helps people all over the world with online therapy and panic disorder therapist wellbeing resources. We work with people with all types of physical health problems and mental health difficulties. We offer professional strategies and services to improve mental wellbeing for short term goals and long term support.

We have expertise in CBT but also many other disciplines such as EMDR and ACT.

Feel free to contact us today to talk about appointments & sessions

Other Therapies in Liverpool

EMDR

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) in Liverpool, is a specialist type of psychotherapy that has been shown in clinical trials to be an effective treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other trauma-related life problems.

ACT

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Liverpool– Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a “Third Wave” form of CBT and is the perfect alternative for people who have tried more traditional CBT (perhaps through an IAPT service) and have not achieved the desired results in their life.

CBT

CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) in Liverpool- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy CBT is a type of psychotherapy which aims to resolve problems of the patient by identifying and changing unhelpful patterns of thinking, feelings and behaviour.

If you want to discuss more about panic disorder support or our service for CBT, EMDR or ACT with a chartered clinical psychologist feel free to contact us today.

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