‘Nobody In Their Right Mind Wants to Talk of Horrible Things’

But  trauma therapist are  going to make you at the drop of a hat. Surprise, surprise lots of people drop out. The problem is that therapists are poor at making the distinction between cognitive avoidance and saving normal.

Ms X was on a works training course , but got upset when discussion got around to the Manchester bombing and she left the room. She had escorted her 2 children from the arena. Ms X was referred to Occupational Health     and seen by a therapist who said that she was not suitable for learning to manage workplace trauma. Ms X’s reaction was arguably a normal reaction to an abnormal situation , it had not been ascertained whether she was suffering from PTSD or any other recognised disorder.

 The therapist had not appreciated  that traumatic memories have to be handled with ‘kid gloves’ , there is a normal aversion reaction to such encounters. Recognising and accepting Ms X’s response is acknowledgement of the need to ‘save normal’ . This is not to say that on occassion , there is not a need to learn a better way of handling an intrusive memory when it is significantly impairing functioning (e.g in PTSD) or to reconstruct the memory so that it is a better template for predicting everyday life. But the burden of proof is with the therapist to demonstrate that this is necessary.

Dr Mike Scott

‘We’ll Spin the IAPT Wheel To See What You Need’

Maybe the IAPT wheel will stop at counselling, or perhaps low intensity CBT or maybe  high intensity CBT! I have just  had a client who was within 6 weeks of a road traffic accident given an IAPT telephone assessment and deemed in need of low intensity CBT, but didn’t attend the scheduled treatment appointment and therefore discharged. 14 weeks post rta  he underwent a further telephone assessment and was now deemed in need of high intensity CBT, unsurprisingly he DNA’d the first treatment appointment.      The GP was provided with no explanation of the rationale followed by IAPT nor was he furnished with any psychometric test data. Accountability?

It is difficult to see the logic of IAPT’s position, other than to be seen to offer a speedy service,  it could be argued that some distress post rta is normal and in the interests of ‘saving normal’ (and resources) waiting and seeing a little longer would have been helpful . Perhaps a case for counselling could be made but on what basis?

 

Dr Mike Scott

Failure to ‘Watch and Wait’ Results In Unnecessary Treatment

I doubt that ‘watchful waiting’ has been applied as a policy post the Grenfell Fire, as it is not usually operative in the aftermath of more everyday trauma.  Distressing emotions in the aftermath are oftentimes ‘pathologised’ instead of being seen as part of normal healing process.

A client of mine was involved in a bad car accident, saw her GP who identified whiplash and was concerned that she was troubled by memories of the incident and referred her to IAPT. At IAPT she was offered a choice between a 10 week waiting list for face to face treatment or immediate treatment via telephone counselling. She wanted face to face counselling  and so instead took up her employer’s offer to provide counselling. The two sessions did not help and did not involve cbt.  All this took place within weeks of the accident.

There is a pressing need for GP’s, IAPT and counsellors to be seen to do something, but in all this haste, in the aftermath of a destabilising incident there had been no reliable definition of the problem. Further there was no recognition that typically those destabilised generally find that their own resources are, given time, sufficient to help them regain their balance.
In the event when I saw her 4 months post incident she simply needed CBT for a phobia about driving and travelling as a passenger.
Operating a Watch and Wait over the first 3 months would have resulted not only in a far better use of resources but also the development of a necessary therapeutic alliance. It also advances ‘Saving Normal’ the title of an excellent book by Allen Francis.

Watchful waiting is nothing to do with administering a PHQ-9 every month for 3 months and then concluding ‘something’ must be done if a high score is maintained or the score worsens. Rather it involves the careful tracking of a reliably identified disorder/difficulty.

Saving Normal, Candidates for CBT and Sean Bean

 

Tonight I am planning to watch another episode of the TV drama  ‘Broken’ starring Sean Bean as the central character. He plays Fr Michael who was sexually abused as a child by a priest and had a destructive late adolescence/early adulthood. Fr Michael has uncued flashbacks of the abuse, at times like consecrating the Eucharist. In the last episode he angrily confronted his abuser. But since becoming a priest Fr Michael has nobly served the severely disadvantaged. It was filmed at St Vincent’s, Church, Liverpool directly opposite where I work.  Should I nip across and offer EMDR /CBT?

Set for ‘Broken’

This fictional example echoes a real life conundrum for clinicians – a colleague of mine recently brought to my attention the case of a lady who had intrusive flashbacks of the aftermath of ECT and wondered whether she needed EMDR. By coincidence I had assessed the lady and knew that she was suffering neither from depression or PTSD and had functioned well for many years. She came to my colleagues attention because of some inherently stressful life events. My response was in the words of Allen Frances’ seminal work ‘Saving Normal’ published in 2013 by William Morrow we must not pathologise every uncomfortable memory, the acid test is whether it is directly causing significant functional impairment now.

In a similar vein I remember seeing a lady some time ago who had undergone prolonged sexual abuse as a child, she had been referred to a number of therapists over the years and they had all wanted to focus on the abuse. She protested that the abuse did not get in the way she was simply anxious about everything. When I saw her I found she was just suffering from generalised anxiety disorder, nothing more nothing less. I treated her with a standard protocol for GAD and she recovered.

I think the answer to all of this is “If it is not ‘Broken’ don’t fix it”, I’m off to watch the TV.

Dr Mike Scott