When dealing with PTSD it is necessary for a therapist, whether a hypnotherapist or a clinical therapist, not only to know what caused the trauma but also to understand how the brain processes emotional stimuli. It is the prolonged emotions after the initial trauma that is indicating a faulty emotional response to everyday emotional stimuli. The fault lies with the way the amygdala (a brain structure of the limbic system) is dealing with emotional stimuli in the post-trauma period. If the fault is not corrected the inappropriate emotional response continues, and can continue for many years. Because the response is an unconscious one, the sufferer feels they have little or no control over their thoughts and feelings. Energy becomes drained and depression often accompanies the trauma as the individual feels a loss of control of their emotions. Sleep becomes a problem and relationships strained.
Recall an incident that happened to you in which you were quite embarrassed. The emotion is attached to the image. But more importantly, you will be retrieving both the image and the emotion from long-term memory. It does not pray constantly on your conscious mind. In the case of PTSD, however, memory of the incident – and more particularly the emotion associated with the incident – constantly springs into consciousness. It constantly prays on the mind; repeating itself like a record that is stuck in a groove. This breakdown in the proper encoding of memories is also analysed because it gives the therapist a clue as to what therapy needs to do in order to place the incident and its associated emotion into autobiographical long-term memory.
In this section, therefore, we first present a discussion of brain structures and memory processing that are relevant in understanding PTSD. Without this understanding therapy is likely to be ineffectual or mis-directed. Only then do we turn to how hypnotherapy can be utilised to deal with PTSD. Although hypnotherapy is not the only therapy for dealing with PTSD, cognitive behaviour therapy being another, it is a very suitable therapy because it deals with unconscious processes and it is in these processes that the problem lies.