Healing Trauma, Loss and PTSD
by Darlene Treese, Ph.D. and Cynthia M. Lindner, M.S.
The American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association offer the
following information as a public service. This white paper is intended to
provide general information only. Individual personal issues may vary from
these general guidelines. Therefore, it is our recommendation that
individuals who think they are having symptoms address there issues within a
therapeutic setting with a licensed professional who is familiar with the
problem and it’s treatment.
Coping With Trauma
Most of us conduct our lives around the belief that we will be relatively
safe. For many people that belief was shaken as catastrophic events unfolded
on the gulf coast of the United States of America. Hurricanes Katrina and
Rita unleashed powerful winds, and high storm surges powerful enough to wash
away homes and buildings and have left the landscape nearly unrecognizable.
These natural disasters have destroyed property, taken hundreds of lives,
altered the lives of millions, and for many people across the nation,
undermined feelings of safety.
Events such as this are outside the realm of people’s ordinary experience.
Catastrophic experiences are not limited to war and natural disasters
(tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, flooding, etc.) but also
include rape, physical or sexual abuse, fires, auto accidents, school
shootings, plane crashes, hostage situations, and exposure to other violence
such as car-jacking, mugging, and military combat. It is not only the
victims of these events, but also witnesses, families of victims and the
helping professionals such as police and rescue workers who can develop
severe symptoms of stress, which can potentially become long-lasting.
The anxiety experienced during or immediately after a catastrophic event is
identified as traumatic stress. When symptoms endure several months after
the incident, it is classified as post-traumatic stress. Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the term used by mental health professionals to
characterize people who have endured highly stressful and frightening
experiences and who are having severe distress caused by memories of that
event. There are three main clusters of PTSD symptoms which must be present to
confirm a diagnosis of PTSD:
Intrusive Symptoms are comprised of intrusive and repetitive memories which
trigger the very distressing feelings experienced during the trauma. These
symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, and uncomfortable traumatic
memories that come up in an interfering way.
Arousal Symptoms are comprised of physiological reactions. These can include
unwarranted angry outbursts, being easily startled and feeling jumpy,
difficulties in concentration sleep problems, and hyper vigilance.
Avoidance Symptoms are a pattern of behaviors with the intention of escaping
the memories and stressful feelings of arousal. These behaviors can include
avoiding situations, places or people which are reminders of the trauma,
avoiding thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma and feeling numb
emotionally and detached from other people including loved ones. There may
also be feelings of hopelessness, and a decreased interest in pleasurable
Getting Help for PTSD
It is important to remember that traumatic stress is a normal reaction to
very abnormal circumstances, and PTSD is an extension of that reaction.
There is no shame in experiencing symptoms, nor is having symptoms viewed as
a sign of weakness.
PTSD is very treatable, especially when it is caught early. The idea behind
the treatment is to process the traumatic event, as well as manage the
symptoms. A qualified Therapist can help the person with PTSD to find the
words to talk about the incident and to understand the feelings that
accompany the experience, rather than to avoid things associated with the
trauma. Whatever a person resists persists at the sub-conscious level and
ultimately controls their thoughts, feelings and actions and interferes with
their daily life. Though it might seem natural to want to avoid painful
memories, it is important to acknowledge the memories, feel the emotions and
work at processing them. When this happens, the trauma no longer controls
the person. The person is now in control of the memory of the trauma to the
extent that she or he can approach it with flexibility and objectivity.
Hypnotherapy in the Treatment of PTSD
A Licensed Clinician skilled in the therapeutic use of hypnosis can
facilitate the processing of the traumatic memories, and facilitate
alternate perspectives and consequently different responses to the memories
of trauma. Hypnosis as a management tool can be used to develop skills in
relaxation, and teaching individuals to use self-hypnosis as a self-help
tool can have an empowering effect for the individual who uses it to manage
Statistics about PTSD
· A majority of people who are exposed to extreme stress are able to
process their way through their reactions and never develop PTSD although
they will experience a “grieving process” as they regain their normal level
· An estimated 70 percent of people will be exposed to a traumatic
event in their lifetime.
· Of those people, 20 percent will go on to develop PTSD.
· Women are about twice as likely to develop PTSD as men, because
women are more likely to experience interpersonal violence, including rape
and physical beatings.
· Rape is a leading cause of PTSD.
· Victims of domestic violence and childhood abuse are at high risk
· Approximately 8 percent of the population will develop PTSD during
Self-Help Strategies for Dealing with Loss
People who have experienced a traumatic event usually also experience a
sense of loss. In the case of hurricane Katrina, some of the losses are
painfully obvious, but let’s not forget that some losses are intangible. The
loss of dignity, innocence, or personal safety must also be grieved.
The goal of the person dealing with loss is to move through the stages of
the loss process, to acknowledge the impact of the loss, learn from it, and
to eventually reach closure so that in the future life can be experienced
more fully. Many people will seek the help of a qualified mental health
professional who may be better prepared than most to empathize and guide the
process in a productive way.
If you are suffering:
· Acknowledge the loss in order to get though it. Accept the loss as
an important and necessary part of your life experience.
· Realize that intense feelings are normal and expected. Expect
losses to uncover intense feelings, this is especially true if a person has
not achieved closure on past losses. When a person can process the loss
productively, these feelings, over time will pass.
· Take care of your health. While adjusting to losses, people are
more prone to letting themselves go, opening the door to other health
problems and even accidents. Be sure to get enough sleep, exercise, and
maintain a nutritious diet. Avoid alcohol and drugs during time of adjusting
to loss. They may provide temporary relief, but can become another problem,
and abusing substances will stall the loss process and make the recovery
Often in extreme situations, those who are taking care of others suffer
greatly because of the requirement to temporarily put aside their own needs.
Those who are first responders and caretakers need to know that they have
support available and have been victims as well. Those in the helping
professions must remember that it is being strong to ask for help when it is
needed. Unless one is taking care of these personal needs and processing the
trauma experienced, there will be nothing left within them to offer others
and consequences of the memories of these experiences may linger for months
or years to come. A licensed professional is bound by their Code of Ethics
to client privacy and confidentiality and can offer objective, nonjudgmental
Knowing that at some time in life there will be losses allows a person to
mentally prepare for it. No one is protected or immune from trauma and loss.
It is a part of life that all will experience in some way either as an
individual, a family, a community or a nation and it will usually come at an
unexpected time and in an unexpected way. Some losses are small and easily
forgotten; others change the course of life. A loss may destroy a person or
make that person stronger. Following the steps that are outlined allows one
to take charge of grief, to choose to live again, to make decisions that
make a difference and to complete this journey back to wholeness.
Darlene Treese, Ph.D., and Cynthia Lindner, M.S. are both Past-Presidents of
American Psychotherapy and Medical Hypnosis Association.
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