PTSD: What is it and how can hypnotherapy help?
PTSD: What is it and how can hypnotherapy help?

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is often associated with military personnel, who can end up suffering with it due to the nature of their work. During World War I, the condition was not recognised or understood. Soldiers suffering from it were seen as being affected by ‘shell shock’, but very little care was provided and the men were often expected to just ‘get on with it’. I would like to think that times have changed as we are more educated about the condition now, but I know that many sufferers may still feel that their symptoms, the effects of these on themselves and their loved ones, and the after-care available are not afforded enough thought or action.

What can trigger PTSD?

The diagnosis of PTSD only came about years after WWI. Soldiers can be exposed to extremely stressful situations that can result in them experiencing trauma. Similarly though, this can also be the case for the likes of firefighters, police officers, or health care professionals such as ambulance drivers. Beyond this, PTSD can also occur as a result of traumatic incidents such as rape, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, witnessing violent deaths or any other event in which the person felt a sense of intense fear, helplessness or horror.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

PTSD is a serious condition and its diagnosis is rather strict. Diagnosis of psychiatric conditions such as PTSD have to meet the required criteria published in a medical book called the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), currently in its fifth edition. The book is taken as the diagnostic standard for medical practitioners.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, your medical practitioner would have to speak to you in-depth to discover more about your experiences and your symptoms. The symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, low mood & mood disturbance and flashbacks. A flashback is a state in which you are experiencing – in a very realistic way – the sensations, memories and feelings associated with the original event. In reality, you are in an altered state and experiencing a very negative form of trance.

Because of this similarity between PTSD and a hypnotic trance, hypnotherapy combined with psychotherapy can be a very effective treatment.

PTSD is often associated with depression and anxiety, and as a coping mechanism sufferers may experience dissociation and depersonalisation (feeling detached from your own sense of reality, or as if observing yourself from a distance – ‘out of body experience’) or start using substances such as alcohol or drugs. Their family life may also suffer too.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, you do need to meet the criteria of having experienced either trauma to yourself or having witnessed a traumatic event first-hand.

What if you don’t meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD?

I’d like to point out that although some people – for example victims of bullying – may not fulfill the criteria for the PTSD diagnosis, they may still experience symptoms of PTSD. The treatment process is the same.

Why is PTSD a special area of interest for me?

Therapists often develop special areas of interest. And I have a particular interest in treatment of PTSD as well as research into it. My own grandfather was a prisoner of war and suffered from PTSD, so this topic is quite close to my heart. Also, my own psychotherapy supervisor (I’m currently training to add a Diploma in HypnoPsychotherapy to my qualifications), Dr.Ibbotson, is a PTSD and trauma specialist and ran a trauma clinic in the NHS for 15 years.

How can hypnotherapy be used to treat PTSD?

As mentioned above, when you’re affected by PTSD, you are effectively in an altered state and experiencing a very negative form of trance. Hypnotherapy can work to neutralise the effects of this, reprocessing the original traumatic memories and emotions in a safe way. Although therapy cannot erase those memories, it can help to change your mind’s relationship with them so that they don’t hold such a negative grip over you and they remain just that – memories.

Photo from Otis Historical Archives used under Creative Commons License