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Unpicking Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

posted 5 years ago

It was on a rainy winter’s day in 2017 when I first heard
the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a way that was meaningful to
me.  I was sitting it a tub chair,
feeling totally uneasy, almost wired yet vacant, staring at the uninspiring
view of a Co-op supermarket through the raindrop obscured window.  My Psychologist was sharing the diagnosis of
PTSD and I was keen not to accept it. 

‘’Oh no!  I’m not
having any of that’’ I remember saying internally.

I distinctly recall averting my eye contact as if this meant
her words couldn’t penetrate me and I remember a very real fear rising in my
chest as I asked myself ‘’What on earth will they think of me at work!’’  Having a disorder was not high up on my list
of things to do and certainly not how I wanted my colleagues to perceive me.

The reality was, I had just voiced a debilitating set of
symptoms that I’d been experiencing for several weeks, triggered by me finally
leaning into the 8 years of sexual abuse I’d been exposed to as a child.  Reflecting on the severity of the situation
and my subsequent state, it is no wonder the diagnosis followed. I am grateful
now that I did accept the diagnosis and went on the receive the help I needed.

I now work with people who are experiencing PTSD and I am also
studying the disorder and impact it has. 
Seeing both the theory and the practical elements through a lens of my
own personal experience is fascinating, and the more I learn, the more I am in
wonder at the complex genius of the human brain.

PTSD is a condition classified by the Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders in the US and the International Statistical Classification of
Diseases (ICD-10) in the UK. 

For a diagnosis of PTSD to be made there are several
criteria that must be met.

A person must have been exposed to a trauma,
either by way of an experience or witnessing an event that is deemed to be a threat
of or actual death or serious harm OR threat to personal integrity or that of somebody
else. This can include being consistently exposed to details of traumatic
events such in the cases dealt with by judges, police officers, paramedics etc.

There must be at least one intrusion symptom
that is linked to the event which starts after the event occurred. This would
include elements such as distressing dreams, flashbacks of the events that
appear to be as real as the event itself and physiological responses in line
with those experienced during the event, when reminded of what happened such as
crying, heart racing etc.

3.      Avoiding memories, thoughts and feelings about
the event which can extend to avoiding situations that may trigger a
  If the PTSD was triggered by a
car accident on a motorway for example, there may be an avoidance of motorways
going forward.

4.      Not being able to recall aspects of the initial
events in detail and losing interest in social connection and/or
  Detaching from the world to
protect oneself.

An altered state of arousal and reactivity which
may lead to unhelpful behaviours such as hyper-vigilance, anger or a propensity
to misuse stimulants such as drugs/alcohol etc.

I believe it’s critical to note that many people experience
traumatic events during their lifetime. 
In fact, research conducted by The National Council suggests that 70.4%
of adults have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their

With these statistics it’s hardly surprising that the number
of people being diagnosed with PTSD is rising. 
I would argue however, that in many cases only some, rather than all the
PTSD diagnostic systems are present. 

It is very likely that following a traumatic event, a person
will experience some of the aspects of PTSD I have mentioned.  This would be a normal response to such an
incident and the symptoms would dissipate with time.  Of course, having a few of the symptoms does
not mean a person has the disorder, so importantly one of criteria for PTSD
that I haven’t touched on is the duration that the symptoms are experienced

My fear, which is being backed by some experience working
with clients, is that PTSD is being diagnosed at general practice level for
people who are experiencing some of the symptoms short-term.  My hope is that people will seek help from a
psychologist in determining whether the diagnosis is correct. It’s estimated
that only a small percentage of those who experience trauma go on to have
chronic PTSD, i.e. the symptoms continue to be experienced over prolonged

I feel grateful that I discovered the Havening Technique®
which is a safe and non-intrusive way to work with trauma and symptoms of
PTSD.  Where PTSD is a chronic condition,
I will only do this when working alongside a medical professional, but for the
general symptomatic presentation, a client can work with me to change the way
they perceive the situation.

For a trauma to be encoded in our brain a few elements need
to be present.  Firstly, there needs to
be the event itself coupled with what is known as a vulnerable landscape in the
brain (determined by environmental factors we have been exposed to throughout
life).  We then need to perceive the
event subconsciously as being both threatening and inescapable.  Where these conditions are present, the
trauma will be encoded and sit on a neuron in the brain waiting to be triggered,
almost like a live landmine would wait silently in the field until its

One of the challenges with this trauma encoding is the very
fact the trauma can be triggered by new sensory information which flows in
throughout our daily lives.  Anything
that we perceive to be linked to the trauma (even the most tedious links can
cause a trigger) will activate the body’s fight, flight or freeze response and
we are likely to respond in the way that we did at the time of the trauma and
then perhaps include an unhelpful habitual numbing response such as drinking,
emotional eating or being angry in order to escape the uncomfortable or scary
feelings we are experiencing as a result of the trigger.

Having been through several years of talking therapy &
some EMDR, I realised that talking about the abuse I’d experienced was
eliciting this emotional response and I believed (rightly or wrongly as I have
no evidence) that the PTSD symptoms continued as a result. I liken this to
having a wound a continually pouring salt into it. I believe some talking
therapy is key in order to ensure the buried feelings are accessed but in the
case of PTSD it’s often evident that the feelings are being felt.

When I discovered Havening, this started to change.  Working through the events and the associated
feelings brought about a neutral state which meant I could re-experience the
events without feeling the fear, shame or desire to use my unhelpful numbing
habits.  It wasn’t coming from a place of
dissociation because I had absolutely felt the events being activated when I
initially thought of them in the therapy session, rather it was a result of a
neural process known as depotentiation which I like to think of as the land
mines being deactivated by the bomb squad. 
Once the process occurs, the mine can no longer be harmful.  We view it still as something that used to
cause harm but doesn’t have the ability to do so now that it’s been neutralised.

The benefit of this technique, which was created by medic,
Ronald Ruden, in the US, is that clients don’t need to re-experience the
original trauma in detail, unlike with EMDR therapy.  It simply must be activated for a few moments
before a series of distraction techniques are deployed, alongside the
application of touch. This combination allows the process of depotentiation to
take place and the client reports a feeling of neutrality, almost as if they
are disconnected with the trauma.  I love
to see clients screwing up their eyes and shaking their heads in disbelief
because they can no longer associate the dreadful feelings with the event
itself.  Once the process has taken
place, the event will never be experienced in the same way again.

So, you can see that this way of working is so wonderful for
clients experiencing PTSD symptoms around an event.  And in my case, with a more chronic case of
PTSD which is linked to a prolonged and high number of events, there are ways
to work with clients to neutralise the string of events quickly, albeit not
always in a single session.

It is wonderful to be able to piece together my academic
learning in psychology and neuroscience with my practical work with my clients and
I know this will grow from strength to strength, always putting the wellbeing
of my clients first.

The work of Dr. Ronald Ruden is in my view an enormous step
forward for the treatment of PTSD symptoms and I would love to see this replace
the more intrusive EMDR therapy currently deployed by the NHS.

For more information please feel free to email me at [email protected]


Angela Cox is certified practitioner of Havening Techniques.
Havening Techniques is a registered trademark of Ronald Ruden, 15 East 91st
Street, New York. www.havening.org



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