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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a traumatic event. A traumatic event is a life-threatening event, such as military combat, natural disasters, critical incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adulthood or childhood. Signs and symptoms of PTSD include:
(Source: VA National Center for PTSD, February 2010)
Not all wounds are visible. First, know that you are not alone. There is hope for individuals suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. More information on effective, user-friendly treatments is below.
Seeking help is not easy. Many first responders and veterans have heard and experienced horror stories of therapy or counseling sessions that have been nearly as traumatizing as their experiences. Others have been prescribed medications that simply mask the core problem. Dan Jarvis (founder of 22Zero) sought help through the Office of Veterans Affairs, and found the prolonged exposure therapy to be torture, and discontinued the therapy as a result. It wasn’t until he heard about and underwent alternative therapies like Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) and Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories (RTM) Protocol that he got true peace and relief.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) is a form of psychotherapy with roots in existing evidence-based therapies but shown to achieve benefits much more rapidly (usually within 1-5 sessions). Clients with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, sexual abuse, and many other mental and physical conditions can experience remarkable benefits starting in the first session.
The client is always in control of the entire ART session, with the therapist guiding the process. Although some traumatic experiences such as rape, combat experiences, or loss of a loved one can be very painful to think about or visualize, the therapy rapidly moves clients beyond the place where they are stuck in these experiences toward growth and positive changes. The process is very straightforward, using relaxing eye movements and a technique called Voluntary Memory/Image Replacement to change the way in which the negative images are stored in the brain.
The treatment is grounded in well-established psychotherapy techniques, and the end result is that traumas and difficult life experiences will no longer trigger strong emotions or physical reactions. Importantly, clients do not even have talk about their traumas or difficult life experiences with the therapist to achieve recovery
The Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories (RTM) Protocol is notable because it causes little discomfort to the client and can be administered in any normal quiet room by Masters level counselors after a two-week certification training. It does not involve drugs or costly equipment and is a relatively quick therapy.
In clinical trials RTM removed the nightmare and flashback symptoms of PTS in less than half the time of current therapies, often in less than two or three sessions. RTM administered shortly after veterans return home can remove the symptoms and stop the PTS Syndrome from developing. The results to date are phenomenal – a ninety percent remission of PTS diagnosis and clinical symptoms.
RTM begins by questioning the client until he or she responds physiologically. Typically, this includes changes in breathing, heart rate and vocal pitch. The response is only allowed to continue until the physiology changes. It is stopped before re-traumatization can occur. As soon as this state is identified, the dissociation begins by asking the client to imagine he or she is in a movie theater. On the screen is a still image of the client performing some neutral activity in a safe context, at a time before the trauma occurred. Then, he or she is asked to imagine floating away from his or her body in the theater to a projection booth. From this vantage point, he or she is instructed to watch him or herself in the theater, watching themselves on the screen.
After establishing these three levels of dissociation, the client is instructed to watch a black and white picture of themselves on the screen of the movie theater at a time before the traumatic event. As he focuses on the imagined picture, he is directed to watch himself in the theater as he watches a black and white movie of the traumatic event. He watches himself in the theater watching the event until a safe time after the trauma has fully passed. This process is repeated until watching the entire movie can be done without any observable discomfort. When he can watch the movie comfortably, he is asked to step into it and experience the entire sequence, fully associated, in color, in reverse and at very high speed. When the trauma can be talked about with no discomfort, the intervention is presumed to have worked.
Transition out of a service career adds to the stress of dealing with trauma experienced while in these roles. Those who choose service careers, such as the military and first responders, all too often take on the identity of their profession, instead of maintaining an individual identity apart from the profession. It’s the nature of the job. When they retire or leave service, they thus lose their identity and feel lost and isolated.
In 2012, Prudential conducted a survey to better understand veterans’ experiences and perceptions around finding civilian careers after transitioning out of service. Sadly, the survey revealed that 64% of veterans reported having a difficult transition from military service to civilian life. A few of the greatest challenges of transitioning to civilian life were figuring out what was next, relating to non-veteran civilians, and readjusting to social life. These challenges also apply to our first responders who are retiring or leaving their profession.
The struggle some are experiencing may not be PTSD related, but may simply be a result of transitioning out of a service career. Isolation, depression, feelings of helplessness can result from this transition. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
An excellent resource for those transitioning out of a service career is the book Mission America: Straight Talk About Military Transition by Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Scott Mann. Although it was written from a military perspective, the principles can be applied to first responders. We highly recommend this book.