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Frances Masters • Manage Stress, Mental Health • No Comments

How to Stop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms: a Psychotherapist Explains

Wives, friends, and colleagues can all suffer the fallout from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It often goes undiagnosed because people don’t like to talk about trauma, so they talk about headaches, insomnia, panic attacks, depression or the drug and alcohol issues which are often just symptoms of the real underlying problem.

My book ‘PTSD Resolution’ demystifies the Rewind technique for professionals and normalises the treatment for anyone experiencing the distressing effects of trauma. For those who have lost hope of recovery, knowledge is power, and clear information will hopefully encourage sufferers to finally seek out help. It is now on the recommended reading list for the Diploma.

PTSD Resolution is a very unusual book of two halves. It begins by telling a story through the eyes of Rob; a war veteran plagued by PTSD symptoms whose marriage is close to breaking down. He arranges to see a therapist. His first session, based on my interactions with a real client, is fully scripted word by word and provides a ‘fly on the wall’ account.

The same session is then described by the therapist, and gives a clear explanation of how she is working. What feels like a helpful conversation to Rob is actually a therapeutic process underpinned by years of experience and layers of technical theory.

Here’s an extract from both views:

Extract 1: The Client

”As Rob sat outside the cottage, his hands on the steering wheel, glancing from house to road to house, he debated the idea of simply driving away.

‘How the hell did it get to this? How did I get to a point where my life is so out of control that I need to crawl to someone else for help? I’ve always been a strong one, the tough guy, the soldier. I look after everyone else. That’s my role, not the other way round.’

Mary’s voice on the phone had seemed calm and confident. ’Nightmares and flashbacks? Yes, I believe I can help’ and the appointment was made.

His partner, Jane, was relieved. This finally felt like a step in the right direction. She had reached breaking point herself. She wasn’t sure if the marriage could survive another year of the nightmares, the anger and the drinking. It was like the old Rob had been stolen, his happy-go-lucky personality taken by aliens and replaced by a restless, jumpy and distant stranger.

Finally, with a heavy sigh, Rob pulled his key out of the ignition, the decision made. He put his hand on the gate and looked up at the red door ahead, wondering what lay beyond and whether he dared to hope for some peace at last. It seemed unlikely but, he had nothing to lose.

Mary’s smile was warm and welcoming as she took Rob along a little side path to her study.

‘So you found me alright then Rob?’

‘Yes‘

‘And you managed to park up okay?

‘Yes, just outside the pub.’

‘That’s great. At least the sun has finally decided to break through.’

‘Yes, we could certainly do with some sun.’

And before he knew it, Rob was seated on a comfortable old sofa, sinking into its feather filled cushions as Mary handed him a piece of paper. ‘Just a little tick box thing for you to fill in Rob. It’ll only take a minute to complete and it means I won’t have to fire loads of questions at you. Is that okay?  ‘While you’re doing that, can I get you a tea or coffee? ‘

‘Yes, coffee thanks Mary.‘ Rob felt more comfortable than he’d anticipated.

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This seemed strange, not like he had imagined it at all. No clinical surroundings. No white coated expert; the most normal and natural thing in the world. Rob looked more closely at the form Mary had left him. An ‘emotional needs audit’; that was puzzling. The first question made him think hard.

‘Do you feel safe and secure in the major areas of your life…..’

Extract 2: The Therapist

I had seen Rob sitting in the car outside for several minutes and wondered if he would come in or simply drive away. I was pleased he came to the door and greeted him with a smile.

Establishing early rapport with a new client is essential. I am a brief therapist and aim at early changes and improvements. There is much talk about what constitutes a good therapeutic alliance: the kind of working relationship that will allow for someone to trust in the process and have hope of change.

You are perceived as eight times more approachable if you smile, so this is an early intervention I hope will allow for Rob to have a positive first impression. You don’t have a second chance at a first impression and human beings are hard wired to make a judgement about a new face within milliseconds of the first encounter. There is a very good reason for this.

In the days of the caveman, visual clues about whether a stranger is friend or foe, a possible danger to the group, someone of my tribe or another tribe, could mean the difference between life and death; in other words, a major survival mechanism.

I live in a long narrow house and usually greet my clients at the front door. By the time they reach the door to my study, I will have tried to elicit a ‘yes’ response three times. This is known as a ‘yes set’ and is something which the marketing industry has been using for a very long time. By agreeing, there is already a feeling of common ground; an affinity, so that by the time I have embedded the suggestion, ‘where would you like to sit and relax’, my hope is that Rob is already feeling more confident about our work together.

In fact, I sometimes set ‘smiling’ as homework and ask clients to notice what changes it makes. One client had a very balanced outlook on life; a chip on both shoulders!

Sheila

Sheila had many difficulties with her family while she was growing up and had developed a very negative outlook on life. She did not really trust anyone and reported that people seemed to shut her out, often looking strangely at her.

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She described herself as ‘a fierce maggot’, and her facial expression certainly supported the label she had given herself. She looked very stern and had deep furrows between her eyes from frowning even though she was only twenty nine. I explained to her how human beings mirror body language quite naturally so that, if she frowned or glared at people, they would unconsciously reflect back that look, and she would have a feeling that people were looking at her in a negative way.

I wrote a saying down for her

‘A man with a hammer sees many nails!’ and set her the homework task of smiling at people, family, work colleagues, neighbours and writing down any changes she observed as a result of doing that. The following week, she returned with the news that life had changed. She did not feel excluded any longer. A neighbour had invited her in for coffee, the tension at work had evaporated and relations with her family felt more comfortable

Questions, Questions

My first impression of Rob was that he was a worried man. His eyes looked heavy and I could hear his low energy in his voice. From our brief telephone conversation, I thought Rob was showing some of the classic symptoms of PTSD with accompanying panic attacks; an area where I have had good success in the past using the Rewind technique. I feel confident I can help him, but need him to have confidence too, and the hope and expectation of change. It is all part of the process.

I handed Rob a form which contained two questionnaires. Sometimes, clients dislike form filling and I bypass resistance by suggesting that completing the forms will mean I do not have to fire a lot of questions at them. Most people will see a brief form filling exercise as preferable to answering a barrage of questions.

These two forms will provide me with a huge amount of information and start to provide clues to the underlying issue, the essence of the problem and the essence of the solution..….”

PTSD Resolution, Mindfulness Based Mind Management, epigenetic, mapping the connectome, polyvagal theory, the reticular activating system (RAS)secondary gain, rewind for trauma resolution, coaching for kids, treating depression, worrying well, working smart, therapeutic stories, insight, psycho education, suicide prevention, affirmations, positive mental rehearsal, imagery,  dissociation, goal setting, mindfulness, new paradigms, reframes, fast track learning, perception shifting, self actualisation, positive psychology, reframing, metaphor, personal empowerment, motivational thinking, lifting depression, the happiness principle, resilience and resourcefulness, human flourishing, anchoring, rewiring your brain, the STOP System, the SAFE SPACE happiness recipe, holistic coaching and working on the continuum of wellbeing plus many other professional theories, tools and techniques underpin the content of the fast paced, fast track, Fusion training programmes.  

 

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Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.

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