Moving Beyond Trauma: Healing Therapies for PTSD

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Moving Beyond Trauma: Healing Therapies for PTSD

Earlier this week, news of the horrific Manchester Arena bombing spread rapidly over the internet and news media, sending shock-waves worldwide. Innocent children and families were exposed to unimaginable and unforgettable events.

For spectators, when events like this occur, it can trigger intense emotions ranging from feelings of anger, to sadness, confusion, fear, and even a sense of hopelessness – and these are all “normal” reactions to an abnormal situation. But the witnesses and survivors of this tragedy, lucky as they are to have escaped death, are likely to suffer far more serious consequences in the long term.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, it is estimated that approximately 8% of the population will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. That percentage increases to 34% for people who have been exposed to a traumatic event, such as the bombing in Manchester. To be diagnosed with PTSD one must meet a specific set of criteria that include:

  • exposure to a traumatic stressor
  • a re-experiencing of symptoms (physical and/or emotional)
  • avoidance behavior and emotional numbness
  • hyperarousal
  • symptom duration of at least one month, and
  • significant distress or impairment of functioning.

So, how does one move beyond this emotional pain, or provide support to the most vulnerable population, our children?

These 3 therapies have shown to be effective in treating PTSD in clinical settings for both adults and children:

Family or Couples Therapy: PTSD is a family illness. Family members often experience feelings of guilt, sadness, and isolation when a loved one is suffering. A safe setting where emotions, fears, and concerns can be communicated under the guidance of a therapist can help strengthen relationships and promote group healing during difficult times.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): MBSR is a program that uses meditation, breathing techniques, and movement, such as yoga, to bring awareness to the present moment, without judgement. There is growing body of medical research that shows that a mindfulness-based meditation practice can help people bounce back after highly stressful situations. A 2015 study reported that veterans suffering with PTSD who participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program for a period of 8 weeks, reported a decrease in symptom severity. Children can also benefit from the practice. This 2016 review of research concluded that “high-quality, structured mindfulness interventions improve mental, behavioral, and physical outcomes in youth.”

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy that has proven highly effective for the treatment of trauma. Traumatic memories are memories that tend to be “frozen in time” and each time they are triggered a person may re-experience the same disturbing sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and sensations suffered during the original event. Traumatic memories have long-lasting impact because they change core beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the world around us.

EMDR helps the brain adaptively process traumatic information by replicating what naturally happens during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During EMDR therapy, a person is asked to bring a difficult thought or memory to mind, holding it in awareness, while also following the therapist’s hand movements across the field of vision, mimicking the biological process of REM sleep. Over time, though an event may remain as a bad memory, it eventually ceases to be a physiological stressor, because the person has learned to experience disturbing events or memories in a new and less distressing way.

Left unresolved, PTSD can be devastating, but with appropriate support there are ways to move beyond the pain. If you or a loved one may be affected, please seek help – no one needs to suffer alone.

Additional Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline –24-hour hotline for anyone in emotional distress: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

TRE® – Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercise methods by Dr. David Berceli

Veterans Crisis Line –  For veterans and their families and friends: 1-800-273-8255

 

Revised 5/25/2017

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