PTSD after a car accident.

Causes and ways to help.

PTSD after a car accident

Symptoms of PTSD after a car accident are sadly common, but can also be addressed. Car accidents can be traumatic for many reasons, not least that things can go from routine and everyday to a violent crash with little or no warning. PTSD symptoms can start days or weeks after the event. They can include experiences of intense anxiety and hyper-vigilance (being very aware of potential threats in our environment) and a sense of powerlessness. They can also include intrusive thoughts about the event, agitation, reliving the accident repeatedly in or heads and/or avoiding situations which remind us of the accident (including avoiding driving). PTSD can also affect sleep and our relationships with others. Anger is also a common feeling, as are periods of depression. PTSD following a car accident can occur whether or not someone was hurt, and whether it was a major or minor accident.

Why do people develop PTSD after a car accident?

Being in a car accident is a scary event, in which normal living is abruptly disrupted and replaced with an emergency situation. This leads to a flood of hormones (such as adrenaline) which help us react to danger. The magnitude of this response affects the ways we think and feel in ways which help us survive the situation. However, the same response can also mean the memories of the event get ‘stuck’, replaying at a conscious or unconscious level. This can to symptom lead to affecting our day to day lives significantly.

What can we do to get back to normal?

For many people, the effects of a traumatic event such as a car accidents heal themselves over time. However, for others additional support is helpful. Counseling and therapy support for trauma and PTSD include single session approaches, short term therapy (perhaps 8 sessions) or longer term therapy.

The Rewind approach is one option for working with PTSD after a car accident which may be a good option to consider. The rewind is described as ‘closure without disclosure’. During a rewind session, the person who experienced the accident is asked to remember it in a specific way designed to reduce it’s emotional impact. They are then asked to ‘rewind’ back through the memory at speed. During this process they are supported by a trained professional who explains the process in advance and guides the individual through it in a safe, supportive environment. As with all approaches, the Rewind does not have 100% success rate, so there are also no guarantees. However, a successful Rewind allows the memories to become unstuck, moving into longer term storage. This in turn means they are less intrusive and PTSD symptoms can decline, in some cases within days.

Is a single session approach always the best option?

People involved in car accidents can also have feelings of grief if someone was seriously hurt or died. They may also possibly feel guilt or shame if they see themselves as responsible. In these cases, while single session approaches such as the Rewind may help reduce anxiety, intrusive thoughts and avoidance of driving, it may not address these other issues. In these circumstances, more in-depth talking therapies are recommended. These can be combined with the rewind approach. Longer term work may also be more appropriate if the accident stir up memories of other traumatic event for any reason. These are all important things to discuss with your therapist before deciding what the best choice would be for you.

However, in many cases, a Rewind may provide an effective approach for symptoms of PTSD following a car accident, providing a sense of closure and peace. You can find out more about the Rewind technique here.

Sources of further information and support you can access now

PTSD UK: This charity offers extensive information on treatment options and support: ptsduk.org

ASSIST Trauma Care: Trauma support specialists: assisttraumacare.org.uk

Anxiety UK: Support for those experiencing anxety, including  a helpline (03444 775 774), text support (07537 416 905) (text), and website; anxietyuk.org.uk

If you would like to find out more about the Rewind technique (a single session intervention), please click here.