27 Mar Trauma is treatable – Strategies and evidence-based treatment for your employees
What events cause trauma?
Very frightening or distressing events may result in a psychological wound or injury. These are usually experiences which are life threatening or pose a significant threat to a person’s life or well-being. These psychological wounds are often called trauma and can result in difficulty coping or functioning normally. We all respond differently to situations and two people can experience the same event; one experiencing little or no impact and the other developing severe distress. If symptoms persist some may go on to develop a condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The most common events that can lead to a trauma response include:
- Involvement is a serious accident such as a motor vehicle or workplace accident
- Natural disasters such as floods, bushfires, earthquakes
- The sudden loss or suicide of a loved one
- Acts of physical or verbal violence such as beatings, robbery, war, terrorism, rape, child abuse
- Prolonged sexual abuse, violence or severe neglect
Although most individuals experience a traumatic event during their lifetime, the majority do not develop PTSD or significant psychological disorders. During the few weeks that follow a traumatic event, many people will experience, distressing symptoms such as;
- Intrusive thoughts and disturbed dreams,
- Avoidance of places and activities that are reminders of the event, or social withdrawal
- Some rumination on the memories of the event,
- Fear, irritability depression, anxiety and panic,
- Problems with memory and concentration.
Although these symptoms are not pleasant, they are normal and for 75% of people, these symptoms will pass on their own, over a period of weeks. As physical wounds take time to heal, so do psychological wounds.
Risks increase for developing PTSD (and therefore not healing without assistance) if a person has, a history of previous trauma experiences; anxiety sensitivity, a predisposition to focus on negativity, or a personal or family history of psychological issues. The traumatic event itself can also increase the risk factors associated with developing PTSD. Experiences such as perceived life threat, feeling fear, shame, guilt or horror, either during the event, or immediately after can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD. Some people disassociate during a traumatic event, meaning they feel like an observer to the event, or leave their bodies so they feel numb to what is happening. Again, such events are likely to increase the severity of the person’s reaction to the trauma.
Minimising the potential for ongoing trauma
Some people work in occupations that expose them to frequent potentially traumatic events (e.g. paramedics, police and fire service etc. who may have to deal with human remains, or are repeatedly exposed to details of horrific child abuse). Some people live in situations that means they are frequently exposed to trauma (e.g. family violence). It is by no means guaranteed that a person working in a high-exposure occupation will develop PTSD. Each exposure may not in itself be traumatic, but repeated exposure can gradually erode resilience and productivity. The key to minimising the risks of experiencing trauma is to limit exposure – in effect taking a break from situations you find distressing.
What can I do if I’ve experienced a recent trauma?
- Be gentle on yourself.
Recognise that you have been through a distressing time you might feel very tired and things might feel abnormal (even though you are normal) for a while. With this in mind, try to maintain a normal routine, exercise and eat well, but also be aware that you need time to heal. Relaxation techniques can be useful (yoga, gardening, walking, fishing etc). Do not over use alcohol or other drugs as a method for coping.
- Talk to people/Express yourself
Let your friends and family know that you need them. Share your experiences with people you trust and who will not judge you for your feelings. If you don’t feel able to talk with people, express your feelings in writing (e.g., a diary). Expressing feelings can help the healing process.
- Don’t avoid
Ruminating on the horror of an event can prevent recovery, but so can complete avoidance. Don’t avoid places or activities because of the event (e.g. not getting in a car after an accident). This can cause of build up of fear associated with the place/activity and may become a roadblock in the future (e.g. feeling like you can’t ever drive again).
Treatment for Trauma
If traumatic symptoms have persisted and turned into a psychological condition such as PTSD or Acute Anxiety Disorder then treatment from an experienced mental health professional may be required. The key thing to bear in mind is that trauma is very treatable – but it’s essential that evidence-based treatment is used as other methods can aggravate the trauma. Treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy are very effective treatments, but must be provided by a qualified and registered psychologist to ensure they are conducted properly.
What can workplaces do?
Experiencing trauma can be debilitating and present in many ways. For some the distress is too great and they do not return to work. For others, they battle on, but may experience increased anxiety, bouts of panic, become irritable due to poor sleep and have high absenteeism. The positive in this situation is that modern psychotherapeutic treatment has been proven to work. Many people make a full recovery with fewer relapses than when medication alone is used. In fact, What work places need to do is talk with their EAP provider and ask if they use psychologists trained in trauma therapies, especially EMDR. An assessment by an experienced psychologist in such techniques will indicate whether the individual is a suitable candidate for treatment.
Altius Group provide expertise in people risk services including prevention and management of physical and psychological injuries and illnesses. Altius Group consists of specialised businesses, employing teams of highly qualified professionals, who deliver services in a broad spectrum of individual health, wellbeing and rehabilitation interventions. Altius Group ensures your organisation can realise the financial and commercial potential of a healthy, engaged team.
Anya Stephens | Director and Registered Psychologist, Perth
Anya is a Director of PeopleSense by Altius and is a registered psychologist (MSc Ed Psych – Brunel University), (BSc Psych Hons, London University). Anya is a certified trainer and assessor (TAE40110 – Cert. IV in Training and Assessment), full member of the Australian Psychological Society and WA Psychologists’ Board. Anya is also a qualified hypnotherapist.
Anya has over 20 years of experience and her areas of expertise include:
- Goal oriented coaching;
- Team development;
- Workplace mediation;
- Development and delivery of training
- Human resource related issues.
- Certificate IV qualified in training and assessment;
- Conflict and Mediation;
- Communication, Interpersonal Skills, and Emotional Intelligence;
- Recruitment and Selection;
- Performance Management
- Extensive case management experience in both the WorkCover WA and Comcare sector;
- Ability to manage complex and difficult cases of both psychological and physical basis.
- CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) for a wide range of issues;
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing)
- Critical Incident Responses; and
- Critical incident debriefing.
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