The Wounded Mind: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The word “trauma” comes from the Greek and means “wound”. Whether it’s an earthquake, a terrorist attack, an accident, an attack, anyone who experiences a trauma experience a profound laceration between a “before” and an “after”. “Before” he lived in a just and meaningful world. “After”, suddenly, the world is no longer safe, nothing is more just and equitable.
Although the human being is “naturally” equipped to overcome traumatic events, it sometimes happens that those who have lived through an experience of this type are unable to overcome it spontaneously and develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A phenomenon that, unfortunately, is occurring more and more frequently in this era of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, such as the earthquake that recently devastated Central Italy.
Those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are continually tormented by the memory of the trauma, by a past that continues to flood and submerge the present with fear, pain, and anger, in the form of nightmares, memories, images, sounds, smells, flashbacks, preventing the person from continuing his journey towards the future. Faced with this terrible situation, the person tries to defend himself in different ways, which we have defined “coping reactions”.
- Attempt to control one’s thoughts and cancel the traumatic experience
In the first place, in the illusion of being able to somehow “forget” the trauma experienced and keep the frightening sensations related to it under control, the person tries not to think about what has happened. But in doing so, he experiences the paradoxical situation whereby the more he tries to forget the more he ends up remembering more and more. In the words of Michel de Montaigne “Nothing fixes something so intensely in the memory as the desire to forget it”.
- Avoidance of situations associated with trauma
Most of those who suffer from PTSD also begin to avoid all situations related to the traumatic event, in an attempt to banish any trace of it from their memory. The effect of any avoidance, however, is to lead to a real chain of progressive avoidances until even situations or places that were once “neutral” are gradually experienced as dangerous. The final effect is not only to increase the fear that the person would like to reduce, but also to make them increasingly discouraged with respect to their resources and increasingly limited in their life.
- Request for help, reassurance and complaints
The traumatized person often resorts to the help of others, help that can range from asking to be accompanied to places deemed “dangerous”, to being constantly reassured, comforted or simply listened to. This strategy, which at first always effective, instead leads to the progressive worsening of the incapacity situation of the person who, by delegating to others the management of the effects of the trauma, ends up creating a real dependence and reducing their autonomy even more.
Healing the wound: overcoming the trauma with Brief Strategic Therapy
The first session with a person who has experienced a trauma is of fundamental importance for the subsequent positive evolution of the therapy. Those who have suffered a trauma experience an emergency situation and a desperate need for help but, at the same time, are unable to make even the slightest change on their own. The strategic therapist must therefore be able to communicate to the traumatized person a strong emotional sharing (“I understand what you feel”) and, at the same time, the fact of being a “specialized technician” who has all the tools necessary to help him. The therapist’s communication and relational skills, especially during the first session, are essential to ensure that the patient decides to “trust and trust” and is therefore available to follow what is the main indication for the treatment of this type of disorder: the novel of trauma.
Developed by Giorgio Nardone and his collaborators at the Strategic Therapy Center in Arezzo, Italy, this maneuver consists in asking the patient to write down all the memories of the past trauma every day, in a sort of story and in the most detailed way possible. : images, sensations, thoughts. Every day he will have to go through those terrible moments in writing, until he feels he has written everything that needs to be said.
Once written, he will have to avoid re-reading and put everything in an envelope. At the next session, the patient will have to hand over all his writings to the therapist. At the same time, the person is prescribed to stop talking about the trauma and how much this is still affecting his life (conspiracy of silence), conveying all the pressure of malaise into the daily writings.
The novel of trauma is a maneuver of exceptional effectiveness since it intervenes directly on the main coping reaction that maintains the disorder, that is the attempt to forget. Through this prescription 4 effects are produced: first of all the person externalizes all the memories, the images, the flashbacks that continually haunt him and, by transferring them to paper, he gradually begins to get rid of them; the fact of having to retrace the trauma every day in writing also triggers a sort of “habituation” effect with respect to the traumatic memories, which are now actively and daily sought by the person rather than suffered.
Tracing the tragic event in writing over the days also allows you to gradually detach yourself from the fear, pain and anger this caused, producing the ultimate effect, the temporal relocation of the past into the past. Finally, having to deliver the novel to the therapist represents a sort of “rite of passage” for overcoming the traumatic event.
Patients who agree to implement this prescription, usually already during the second session, tell how the first days of carrying out the task were really difficult and painful, but, little by little, the story became more and more “cold. ”And the memories, flashbacks and nightmares that were previously present on a daily basis diminished rapidly and disappeared.
The fact of having stopped talking about it also helped this process, allowing at the same time to free the relationships with others from the weight of the past. The past put back in its place thus stops invading the person’s present continuously and limiting the construction of his future.
Through the novel of trauma, the wound of the trauma gradually transforms into a scar which, while not completely disappearing, allows the person to regain possession of their natural capacity for resilience. And here, during the following sessions, the person starts recovering his life, interrupting the sequence of avoidances and gradually regaining confidence in his own resources and autonomy.
In most cases, this only maneuver maintained over time allows the person to completely free himself from the invalidating disorder; in cases where Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has instead given rise to other types of disorders (panic disorder, various phobias, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, etc.) the therapist will continue the therapy until total resolution of the problem.
The efficacy of the strategic brief therapy model on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is decidedly high, 95% of cases with an average efficiency of 7 sessions, in which 50% of cases no longer present traces of relevant symptoms after the first one. sitting.