Talking therapies for post traumatic stress disorder

14 July 2011

Road traffic accidents are a leading cause of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can result from exposure to a traumatic event.

Symptoms include:

  • accident flashbacks
  • panic attacks
  • anxiety in certain situations – for example when driving or travelling as a passenger
  • agoraphobia
  • nightmares
  • sleep disturbance
  • depression

PTSD can affect sufferers' confidence levels, mood and temper, and have an adverse affect on their ability to cope with the pain of physical injuries. Symptoms can be intrusive and debilitating, and without treatment can become chronic and overwhelming.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines on PTSD state that all sufferers should be offered a course of trauma-focused psychological treatment involving cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR).

CBT is a talking therapy aimed at looking at how you think, and how your actions can change your thoughts and feelings in order to make you feel better. It helps make sense of problems and anxieties by breaking them down, making it easier to understand how they're connected, and how they affect the way you feel. Rather than focusing on the accident and having to go back over distressing events, CBT concentrates on problems being faced now and helps you overcome them.

Treatment is usually carried out in weekly sessions, more often individually but also in groups, and can last from six weeks to six months, depending on the nature and extent of the problem.

A number of psychologists who provide CBT therapy are also trained in EMDR, which is often an effective partner to CBT in helping reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts following an accident.

EMDR is thought to work by activating the right and left side of the brain while recalling a distressing event, allowing the memory to be reprocessed and the emotion attached to it released. This activation of both sides of the brain is usually achieved through eye movements.

How EMDR works is not fully understood, but it's believed that using rapid eye movements may relieve the anxiety of the original trauma, enabling it to be examined in a more detached way. This enables you to access more positive ways of looking at the event (reprocessing) and to release the stored negative emotions surrounding it (desensitisation).

EMDR can cause repressed issues to surface, so it's very important – as it is for CBT if the treatment is to be effective – that therapy is provided by a specialised psychotherapist.

From our experience of helping those who've experienced road traffic accidents, treatment is either not available at all under the NHS, or in health authority areas where it is provided, provision is limited and waiting lists are long.

CBT and EMDR are considered amongst the most effective therapies for PTSD and other psychological consequences of a personal injury. They are often funded privately by motor insurers under the Rehabilitation Code, which is designed to promote the use of rehabilitation and early intervention in the claims process so that the injured person makes the best and quickest possible medical, social and psychological recovery.

If you've suffered a personal injury, our team of specialist lawyers can help you access the treatment and support you need.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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