Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) doesn’t just affect the sufferer. It can create a tsunami of emotions that threatens relationships and has the power to sink an entire family. As the PTSD sufferer drowns, they often take others down with them.
Wives, partners, mothers, friends and relatives can all be impacted by the angry outbursts, the panic and despair, the anxiety and depression, the flashbacks and the unrelenting nightmares.
I used do some one to one counselling in a category A prison. The things I heard there broke my heart. I was told stories that had never been told to anyone before.
I often felt angry. Not because of the men I was working with, but because, over time, I developed a growing and unsettling realisation that many of my clients should not be in prison at all, but should actually be receiving treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.
The domino effect
The domino effect of PTSD begins with a trauma that feels life threatening. Once safely out of the situation, a reaction may not occur at all. Some symptoms may start straight away or the impact might hit many years down the line.
But when the wave hits, it has the power to wreck lives and destroy hope. Take Ben for example…
When I met Ben he’d been back in the prison system for six months and was heading for release. But Ben didn’t want to be released. ‘I feel safe in here’ he said. ‘It feels a bit like being back in the Army.’
Bens’ story was one I would hear over and over again during my time in the prison.
He had returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan a changed man. Gone was the easy going, funny and affectionate man his wife, Jane, had waved off just 12 months ago. Ben now seemed to have a dark and brooding quality about him. He had a short fuse and would often shout at the children for no apparent reason. They became frightened of him. Then, one day, he snapped and lashed out at Jane.
She left, taking the children with her, and Ben got worse.
He hadn’t told Jane about the terrifying and never ending horror films playing in his head from his tour of duty. Ben didn’t tell me the detail either, but I could see he was experiencing the full range of classic symptoms of PTSD
Ben had taken to drinking to block out the nightmares and when the drink stopped working, he started taking illegal drugs instead.
He now had trouble getting up for work. He had a car accident, lost his license and lost his job. He couldn’t pay the bills, lost his home and ended up on the streets, sleeping rough.
‘I pitched a tent in the woods’, said Ben. ‘It wasn’t too bad at first. My army training helped me survive, but then someone set fire to my tent and I ended up dossing in a skip. It said it all really. I felt worthless; just a pile of rubbish really.’
I felt so bad for Ben. His life had unraveled and no one had spotted what was really wrong. The PTSD needed resolving. But back then, even after years of training as a counsellor, although I could recognise the symptoms of PTSD, I simply had no idea how to treat them.
Now, I know that imaginal exposure interventions such as ‘the Rewind Technique’ could have erased Ben’s symptoms very quickly.
How Rewind works
The Rewind is easy enough to do.
It involves getting the sufferer to calmly imagining the original trauma projected onto a film screen from the moment just before the trauma happened to when the memory fades, then ‘jumping into’ the film screen and rewinding very fast from inside the experience.
This works because it ‘unhooks’ emotion from the memory, allowing it to pass into the hippocampus, the brain’s ‘filing cabinet’ where is becomes just another memory that can be brought to mind as, and if, you want.
Thousands of Bens
I don’t know what became of Ben, but there is something I am sure of. There are thousands of Bens up and down the country.
They should not be in prison at all. They should be getting the right treatment to free their imprisoned minds.
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