Getting Over the Trauma of COVID-19
We can do it with the right approach.
Posted June 25, 2020
It is, perhaps, no surprise to learn that the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to psychologists Danny Horesh and Adam Brown, authors of a recently published paper, "While some types of traumas, such as war, sexual assault, and natural disaster have been studied extensively, COVID-19 forces us to acknowledge an arguably new type of mass trauma."1
Trauma may result, they say, not only as a result of developing severe symptoms of the illness or seeing loved ones experience them but also from the feelings of isolation and breakdown in daily routines due to the lockdown. Children experiencing or witnessing violence while trapped at home will be extra vulnerable.
So we need a ray of hope. And, fortunately, the impact of trauma does not have to be long-lasting, as all human givens practitioners know.
The symptoms of PTSD, such as sudden flashbacks or nightmares, extreme anxiety or irritability and difficulty concentrating, occur when the impact of a traumatic experience, or accumulation of experiences, prevents the brain from fully processing it. To be totally untechnical, messages which normally convey to the relevant part of the brain that an event is "over" end up getting stuck. So, instead of the event becoming a memory, albeit a highly unpleasant one, it remains "live" and we are constantly on alert for danger.
The rewind technique, which all HG practitioners learn, is a non-invasive, one-session method of detraumatisation, carried out in a state of deep relaxation, which enables the brain to recognise that the event is in the past. We then cease to keep reliving it or be emotionally alert to reminders.
The method works extremely well for horrific traumatic events such as being in a fire, having a serious car accident, being violently attacked, etc. But it is also powerful for putting events of a longer-term nature into proper context, as one might imagine the fallout from COVID-19 will be when it is no longer a major threat.
I remember being consulted by a beautiful young woman I’ll call Anya, whom a worried friend persuaded to seek help after she confided that she kept thinking of walking in front of a speeding vehicle. A talented dressmaker, she came from a small village in another country where her mother’s serious mental illness was not recognised. The mother called Anya a devil and literally tried to beat the "bad" out of her, along with all sorts of other cruel and terrifying behaviours. Anya was so frightened that she left home at 13, living first with aunts and then all alone by the age of 15, already self-harming and anorexic. She was also bullied at the schools she attended.
Yet the life force in her was strong (she got over the anorexia by herself) and, when she came to live in London, she found work in theatre and met the man she now lived with. "All should be good. Yet I wake with my heart hammering and I don’t know why," she said. "I don’t know why I don’t want to live."
I relaxed her deeply and carried out the rewind technique with her, which enabled her to process traumatic events from her childhood and put them into the past. Then, while she was still in trance, I reminded her of her considerable resilience and talents and focused her on imagining the positive future she wanted. I also taught her ways to deal with unhelpful negative thinking.
We had just one session, and she is still doing well six years on. I know because the concerned friend who referred her was the son of a colleague of mine.
Detraumatisation may be just the first step to recovery. I worked with one client who had to get past the shock of seeing her partner die violently before she could even start to grieve in a healthy way. And often, through trauma, essential needs and resources will have been compromised. For those still struggling when life returns more to normal after COVID-19, it will be important to address ways to re-establish lost sense of security, control and connection, etc, and make best use of both innate and life resources to look forward, instead of back.
As for young people tragically living through COVID-19 lockdown in abusive circumstances (who may deny it because they don’t want their families broken up), teachers who use our approach know there is power in nurturing self-belief, teaching missing coping skills, and instilling hope for, and capability of, a different life when old enough to go and live it.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
Horesh, D and Brown, A D (2020). Traumatic stress in the age of COVID-19: a call to close critical gaps and adapt to new realities. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12, 4, 331–5. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000592