New Coping Methods For PTSD Being Studied

Healthy Living

June 16, 2016

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious debilitating medical and psychological disorder that can affect people in all walks of life who have experienced physical injury or traumatic psychological shock. The disorder typically manifests itself by causing sufferers to experience sleep disorders (vivid nightmares) and unexpected, uncontrolled recall of the traumatic experience(s). Many who suffer from PTSD have difficulty connecting to their family, loved ones, friends and the outside world in general; they may also have extreme anxiety.

A study from Oxford University and King’s College in London researched whether people who are exposed to trauma on a regular basis such as soldiers, or first responders could train their minds to protect themselves from the symptoms of PTSD. Two clinical psychologists, Dr. Rachel White and Dr. Jennifer Wild wanted to examine whether getting study participants to think about certain situations in a particular way, called concrete processing, could lessen the amount of disruptive memories the study participants have after experiencing a traumatic situation or event.

Clinical psychologist, Dr. Rachel White, one of the lead researchers of the study explained the differences between concrete processing and abstract processing in this way: Abstract processing is when a person is experiencing a traumatic event they analyze why it is happening, what will happen because of the event, and are asking what if types of questions that there really is no answer to. Where as concrete processing is the person focusing on what is occurring, what is being experienced and what the next steps to be taken are.

In studies conducted previously it has been shown that emergency responders who utilized abstract processing had poorer outcomes for coping and had longer periods of low mood compared to responders utilizing concrete processing. The psychologists believe if they can train people in high risk groups of PTSD to utilize concrete processing there would be an opportunity for emergency responders, military personnel, and journalists reporting in war zones to protect their minds from the ill effects of PTSD.

How The Study Was Conducted

The researchers took a group of fifty study volunteers and divided them into two groups, each participant was asked to score their mood at the beginning of the study. The fifty participants were then shown a film that depicted graphic traumatic scenes and again asked to score their feelings such as horror and distress. The two groups were then asked to watch a series of six more films, considering certain questions while doing so.

In one group of 25 participants they were asked to think about abstract questions, such as why a particular situation was occurring. The other group of 25 study participants was asked to think about concrete processing questions such as what they could hear and see happening and what they needed to do from that point forward. After completing the study tasks all fifty participants were asked to once again rate their mood.

Then the fifty were asked to watch a final film as they had been instructed to do before (as with the series of six films) either in concrete thinking or abstract thinking and score their feelings of horror and distress as they had with the first film they watched. And then finally the study participants were each given a diary and asked to log any disruptive memories they experienced of any of the traumatic things they had seen in the films over a period of one week.

Study Conclusions

All fifty participants experienced a decline in mood after the training, but the participants who were utilizing concrete thinking processes were affected less than their counterparts who were using abstract thinking. It was also found that the group of concrete thinkers experienced less intense feelings of horror and distress when they watched the final film. As for the log of intrusive memories during that following one week period, the abstract thinkers had twice as many disruptive memories as the concrete thinkers.

The doctors conducting the study determined that further studies on subjects who have experienced real-life traumatic events are necessary to confirm that the practiced thinking will benefit groups of people who are put in traumatic situations on a regular basis, such as emergency responders and military personnel.

Dr. Wild said, “This study is the first to show empirically that the way we think about trauma could affect our memories of it. Further study is now needed, with people who have experienced real-life trauma and to confirm that this can be applied in groups who regularly experience trauma, like emergency workers. This could be the basis for training to improve people’s resilience in the face of expected traumatic experiences.”

For people already suffering from post traumatic stress disorder it is not known if the practiced concrete thinking will help them to overcome the present ill effects they are suffering from, but further studies are expected in this area as well.