The impacts of motor vehicle accidents (MVA’s) are often not limited to solely physical injuries. The time following an accident can feel very frightening, isolating, and overwhelming. Fortunately, psychotherapy can be very beneficial in processing and coping with the aftermath of an accident.
This does not only apply to vehicular collisions but also includes accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. Our team is trained to address the outcomes of MVA’s in a safe and caring way so that you can return to feeling your best.
How does Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develop after an MVA?
Although not all MVA’s lead to PTSD, it is a very common response. Only about one in 10 individuals who describe their collision as “traumatic” actually develop PTSD. Most crash victims recover within a few months; however, some continue to report chronic symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which hinder their psychological and physical recovery. During an accident, the brain releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. The nervous system goes into high alert. The memory centers of the brain do not function properly as the nervous system becomes focused on survival. Because of this, memories of the accident are encoded as fragments of sensory information rather and when the accident is remembered, instead of feeling like it is in the past it can be experienced like it is happening all over again.
Even though we may rationally know that we are no longer in danger, the nervous system is wired to protect our survival at all costs and often isn’t very good at distinguishing the past from the present. This keeps us in a state of hypervigilance, also known as a fight-or-flight state, where even small things can set off feelings of panic, fear or irritation.
This starts to wear on the nervous system and what may start as anxiety or acute stress can develop into PTSD if left untreated. This can show up as avoidance of cues related to the accident, preoccupation with memories of what happened, social isolation, fatigue, and low mood.
Even if you do not meet the clinical criteria for PTSD, you still may be dealing with troubling symptoms like anxiety and depression as a result of an accident, which can also greatly benefit from counselling.
How can counselling help?
Because after the trauma of a car accident, the nervous system may be stuck in a stance of protecting your survival, stress and fear can start to feel like the norm and the body is not able to return itself to a state of equilibrium. This is why therapies that address both the mind and the body are so effective at alleviating the distress that results from trauma.
Mind-body techniques such as EMDR, OEI, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing can aid with resolving trauma by integrating the memories of what happened and calming the body’s stress response. Because the nervous system is still operating as though the threat remains present, therapies that work from the bottom-up serve to update the nervous system and let it know that the danger has passed, giving it the message that it no longer needs to stay on high alert. This can lead to the resolution of symptoms like panic, anxiety, tension, irritability, and fatigue.
Therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be helpful in reframing negative thought patterns that arose from the accident and reinforcing more adaptive ways of thinking. Because thoughts are connected to emotions and behaviour, changing thoughts is one way of influencing these other systems to function more adaptively, leading to an overall sense of improved well-being.
Blanchard, E. B. & Hickling, E. J. (2004). After the crash: psychological assessment and treatment of survivors of motor vehicle accidents [2nded.]. Washington: American Psychological Association.
Rabe, S., Zöllner, T., Maercker, A., & Karl, A. (2006). Neural correlates of posttraumatic growth after severe motor vehicle accidents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(5), 880.
With clinicians of many languages and backgrounds in convenient locations, we provide effective counselling services tailored to your unique situation.