Whenever people find themselves in life-threatening situations or experience other unexpected and overwhelming events, they are confronted with intense feelings of fear, powerlessness, vulnerability and helplessness. As a result, they may develop certain symptoms. These usually disappear of their own accord, but not with everybody.
Critical, overwhelming events are also termed psychotrauma. Psychotrauma may originate in a variety of situations. These include: wars, natural disasters, kidnappings or hijackings, physical violence, sexual violence, domestic violence, torture, imprisonment, or serious accidents.
After going through a psychotraumatic experience, many people feel for a long time as if the event could happen again. The event itself may belong with the past yet the feelings of tension, fear and restlessness and the images that keep reappearing still make the threat seem very real.
Many people re-experience the situation in which they incurred the psychotrauma, and they express this through psychological or physical reactions such as nightmares or, during the day, by having to think back again and again to the event, or by experiencing flashbacks, hyperventilation or panic attacks. These reactions may occur spontaneously but they can also be triggered by something or someone reminding you of that situation.
Typically, people with a psychotrauma tend to avoid or push away the frightening feelings to do with the trauma. This may sometimes also lead them to ‘push away’ certain memories or to become detached from their own feelings.
Another frequent reaction is irritability. People get angry quickly, are often very tense and startle easily. They don’t sleep well. They are also excessively watchful and vigilant, frequently experience feelings of guilt, often for no apparent reason, and they feel ashamed of what has happened.
If these symptoms persist until four weeks after the events, a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) could be diagnosed. This term is used if several of the above-mentioned symptoms occur, if they persist for a long time and cause havoc to someone’s normal daily functioning.
Foundation Centrum ’45 is the national treatment and expertise centre for psychotrauma. Centrum ’45 in particular addresses itself to the treatment of complex psychotrauma. This entails a combination of several psychological problems and disorders that have their origins in repeated and/or prolonged traumatisation. Complaints may include: the posttraumatic stress disorder, various types of anxiety disorders such as phobias, depressive complaints, problems with addiction and substance abuse, and changes in perception. Often, problems arise at work, at home or within the family and/or the social environment.