Health20 Dec 2009 08:31 am
Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, is a psychological disorder that can sometimes afflict people who have experienced traumatic or life-threatening events and/or situations, such as military combat, violent criminal attacks, sexual assaults; serious accidents and life threatening natural disasters.
There is no standard timetable with respect to how soon an individual may begin to present symptoms of PTSD; some people immediately begin to manifest signs of the disorder, while it may take others several weeks or even months to display symptoms.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV-TR), describes PTSD as including the following diagnostic criteria:
Exposure to a traumatic event;
Persistent reexperience (e.g. flashbacks, nightmares);
Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma (e.g. avoidance of experiences that they fear will trigger flashbacks and reexperiencing of symptoms fear of losing control);
Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger and hypervigilance);
Duration of symptoms for more than 1 month; and
Significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (e.g. problems with work and relationships).
A number of promising new treatments have been advocated for trauma-related problems such as PTSD, including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a highly specialized form of psychotherapy that is specifically tailored for treating patients with PTSD. EMDR relies on a set eight-phase approach that attempts to address the patient’s past, present and potential future manifestations of the negative memories of the traumatic event.
During the initial “processing” phase of EMDR, the patient addresses a negative memory that they associate with their trauma in brief and repetitive sets of approximately 15-30 seconds, while concurrently focusing on the dual attention stimulus (e.g., therapist-directed lateral eye movement, alternate hand-tapping, or bilateral auditory tones). Following each set of such dual attention, the client is asked what associative information was evoked during the exercise. This new information is then incorporated into the next set of processing, in an effort to gradually desensitize the patient to the harmful affect of the negative memory.
Advocates for EMDR claim that it helps patients with PTSD process dysfunctional and negative memories and thoughts that have become ‘imprinted’ in the nervous system by the shock engendered by the triggering traumatic event. While EMDR seems a bit unorthodox at first glance, a number of well-respected studies have reliably demonstrated its efficacy.
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