Flashbacks often occur after a person has been involved in a stressful incident or trauma, which either threatened their safety or that of someone else.
Over the years I have seen lots of people who have come to see me due to experiencing a trauma reaction, which includes flashbacks. Examples include people working in jobs like prison officers, police officers, teachers, carers and hospital staff where in the course of their work they have been exposed to an incident or many incidents.
Similarly everyday people may have been subjected to a trauma such as sexual assault, car accidents, witnessed or experienced a complicated birth, been subjected to a home invasion or an armed hold up – and therefore are likely to experience flashbacks.
A flashback is usually described by the person as a sensory experience of a frame (or flash) of the scene that happened to them. Sometimes it plays out like a movie in the patient’s mind and sometimes it is just one frame of the scene that they experienced.
Most of the time people react to the flashback with fear and avoidance, which is understandable because along with the flashback the person may experience a panic attack or a severe intensity of emotion – commonly either anxiety or anger.
While the shortest and quickest way to seemingly take the flashback away is to “not think about it”, often the flashback comes knocking back on the door very quickly, increasing the sense of helplessness or frustration.
In fact, psychology recommends doing the opposite. The idea is to deliberately place the flashback in mind, and ride with it, along with its intensity, accepting the ride as it happens, and maintaining contact with it until reaching the peak of intensity and the other side, which is where the emotions begins to dissipate.
Another way of thinking about it, is that it is like walking in the rain. Instead of wearing your rain coat and taking your umbrella, you invite yourself to go out into the rain and bravely feel the cool water, until you can accommodate the feeling of the water of your skin. The water of course being the metaphor for the flashback.
This is also a form of exposure therapy. The idea that gradually facing the very thing that you fear, helps you overcome the fear.
I am not saying that this is easy to do, and it may be best with a guide, like a psychologist, however, with practice it does help.
Psychologists often uses a combination of psychological strategies, including:
- debriefing of the incident
- exposure therapy
- eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)
- soothing and grounding strategies.
The growing team of experienced psychologists at Revive Health and Happiness are ready and waiting to help – if you have suffered a traumatic event or are a Doctor with a patient struggling with flashbacks, get in touch now to arrange an immediate appointment.
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