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Range of services
Child and Family
Treating chronic pain
EMDR & TRAUMA STRESS
EMDR study group
Traumatic stress defined
Rent a room
is Traumatic Stress?
A Case Example
A police officer with twelve months service was first to arrive at an
incident where a man was lying on the ground in a pool of blood that
flowed from an open head wound. She realised that the victim still had
a pulse and administered first aid, however he died within a few
minutes. The officer preserved the scene and maintained an incident log
until she was relieved by a colleague on the next shift, an experienced
constable with 18 years service. When her colleague arrived he found
the scene taped-off and a Scenes of Crime tent erected above where the
body had been. All that remained was a pool of congealed blood. By
this time the victim’s brother had been arrested and charged with
The junior officer was back on duty the next day having thought about
the incident several times. Within a few days she had attended a
critical incident debrief and did not recognise any undue signs of
discomfort regarding the incident. Her male colleague, on the other
hand, reported sick for his next turn of duty, citing “flu” as the
reason for his absence. He suffered nightmares and intrusive thoughts
about the incident. His dreams related to incidents in the early 1980s
where police and army had been killed and he was required to preserve
the scene. The intrusive thoughts related to these too, and also to the
pain and guilt the perpetrator must be feeling: the officer felt guilty
about his own poor relationship with his brother and a time when he got
angry and broke the brother’s arm in a struggle.
In the above fictitious account, the junior officer blocked off her
emotions and got on with her job and life. The more experienced officer
tried to do the same, it had always worked before, but try as he might
he could not get an undisturbed night’s sleep and every waking moment
seemed to be filled with disturbing thoughts.
What had happened for the experienced officer was that the recent
incident held such meaning for him it linked back to incidents in the
past that he had never been able to resolve emotionally. He had usually
had a binge on beer and vodka after incidents in the 1980s but this had
never allowed him to process the emotional affect that he experienced.
The junior constable had adopted much the same way of coping but had not
had the cumulative exposure to critical incidents that the more senior
constable had experienced. The critical incident debrief gave her the
opportunity to recognise any distress.
The more experienced officer was having a post-trauma stress response to
events outside the normal human experience. This was characterised by
persistent re-experiencing of the incidents. Clearly the
re-experiencing phenomenon would be distressing for the officer, but his
problem may not meet the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) which is really just a diagnostic category for the presence of
How to Get Help
Many people, as well as police officers and other emergency service
workers, experience distress or emotional upset following exposure to
an unpleasant incident. Sometimes this will resolve itself, but it can
develop into a prolonged condition such as PTSD. For some people,
however, distress related to a particular incident may only appear later
in life, such as at retirement or other significant life milestone.
If you find that you, or someone in your care, are distressed by
recurrent thoughts and/or nightmares about past experiences, you can
speak to us, in confidence, to find out what you should do. We have
treated numerous cases of PTSD successfully and would be happy to
receive your referral.
A sufferer’s perspective -
a poem by Andrew Little