Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is caused by a very frightening or shocking experience. A sufferer can often relive their trauma through nightmares and flashbacks.

PTSD can start after any traumatic event or situation of an exceptionally threatening or catastrophic nature. This is likely to cause pervasive distress in almost anyone.

A traumatic event is one where we can see that we’re in danger, our life’s threatened, or where we witness other people either dying, at risk of dying, or being injured. This can create intense feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

Traumatic and acquired brain injury is stressful for the entire family and can impact on parents, siblings, and marital cohesion, to everyday functioning.

Psychological challenges and traumatic stress symptoms are common among parents with children who have been admitted to a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and they may report significant and persisting distress long after discharge. Our trauma-based intervention focuses not only on the child's needs, but also on those of the parents and siblings who may have been effected.

Often weeks, or even months can pass before the symptoms of PTSD can appear. Sufferers generally experience a triad of general symptoms: reliving of the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks or nightmares; emotional numbing; and heightened states of arousal like jumpiness and irritability. We recognise that in diagnosis, the broad categories of PTSD symptoms are present in children as well as adults. However symptoms may differ in younger children, e.g. re-enacting, repetitive play, and emotional and behavioural disturbances. Therefore, all of our interventions are child-focused and age specific. 

All the effective psychotherapies for PTSD focus on the traumatic experiences that have produced the symptoms. Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) are the first-line treatment for people with more than a three-month history of the symptoms.

We recognise that as a process of the therapy, it’s not only important to devote time to developing a trusting therapeutic relationship, but also to appreciate that parents have an important role to play as co-therapists. As the therapy develops, the child and their family are educated about the process of coping with trauma and supported with stress-management training. Those impacted by the traumatic experiences are encouraged, with guidance, to re-experience and integrate the traumatic event into their lives and the way they see themselves.