I have just returned from Edinburgh, Scotland, where I presented a case study paper to 120 delegates of the International College of Applied Kinesiology. Attendees were from the USA, Canada, the UK, Korea, New Zealand and many parts of Europe. There were practitioners of orthopaedic and neurology specialties, as well as chiropractic, osteopathy and other health professions.
The topic of my talk was childhood post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a deep and widespread problem throughout our community both locally, Australia-wide and, of course, overseas. In terms of the child, PTSD manifests after a harrowing event (also known as an A.C.E. or adverse childhood event). But PTSD can develop at any age.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is the resulting state of increased stress after someone has experienced a trauma. Like most things, PTSD manifests uniquely for each person but, generally, it expresses as over-sensitivity, over-reactivity, anxiety, distractedness, impulsive- and risk-taking behaviour, aggression, rage, and a persistent state of flight-fight.
trauma and PTSD
Have you ever heard the term, ‘Get over it’? This phrase is one that ‘rolls off the tongue’ quite readily in parts of our society. I have found it surprising and disturbing when this expectation has been demanded of a person subjected to sexual or other assault, or emotional wounding. The ‘Get over it’ expectation has been present in many parts of our society, and can include attitudes to defence veterans, sportspeople with head or other injuries, emergency responders, victims of crime, and those scarred by family violence. A similar attitude was projected towards a Melbourne friend’s baby boy. After 6 days of him screaming after a very traumatic birth – the boy’s face bruised and scraped and neither parents nor child had slept – the parents were told, ‘He will grow out of it’. Likewise, the business owner who goes through years of long hours and little down-time, can experience physiological burn-out, a state in which their body has produced way too many stress hormones for way too long.
Events leading to PTSD
As individuals we all feel and experience things in our own way, and some may be able to withstand trying circumstances differently. Research shows that events commonly leading to PTSD include sexual or other assault, witnessing or being involved in a violent event, being (or perceiving being) parentally rejected as a child, domestic violence, vehicle accidents, military events, exposure to alcohol and drug-affected behaviour – to name some. When the ‘Get over it’ expectation is demanded of a person who has experienced the above, it ignores the fact that, in the PTSD state, the affected person’s body has chemically and physically changed from what it was before the trauma. So, it is impossible for the person, under the demand of another, to suddenly feel healed from their trauma. What is required as a first step is for their trauma to be acknowledged for what it is. In an ideal world, of course, that trauma would not have occurred. Maybe as a society we can evolve our understanding of this to strive for less interpersonal damage.
What actually happens when someone is traumatised?
Our nervous system controls everything in the body. Researchers say that what happens in the stress response is that our body becomes geared to being constantly ‘on alert’. Over-vigilant. As if we are expecting something life-threatening to happen, and that’s because the actual trauma invokes a very strong survival reflex to kick in to help us survive the event. This can be triggered later when our body perceives we again may be under threat, even when we are not. To the observer, this behaviour may seem exaggerated, and this can lead to deepening of the problem. Being in the PTSD mode is an exhausting state that massively taxes our body, as we crave stimulants to simply cope with the pressure of survival. By merely surviving the over-stimulation of what we are doing then, is borrowing energy we don’t sustainably have.
What can be done?
There are many approaches in psychology and other modalities to help manage PTSD. The first step, in my view, is to respect and understand what happened in the trauma event, and how it has played out for the person. In Edinburgh, I presented favorable outcomes that I had observed in my clinic setting, after applying a very gentle reflex-focussed cranial technique that has been implemented over the years to help children with learning and behaviour issues. The paper was well received, with encouraging feedback.
My objectives are:
To raise awareness about (especially childhood) trauma and how it presents.
To work more closely with other health professionals, and optimize the help we can offer.
Each month I hold free talks on learning and behaviour dynamics, in which parents, teachers, health professionals and carers have discussed some ‘ins-and-outs’ of this important topic. The next talk will be held at Spectrum Natural Family Healthcare clinic at 117 Victoria St. Taree. The date is Thursday, 2nd August at 7pm. If this sounds useful to you, please phone and book for the talk on 65501223.