Kristy Fitzgerald was crossing the road at traffic lights in January when she was hit by a car. She can’t get the memories out of her head. She’s experiencing bad dreams, night sweats and anxiety. Kristy wishes she could forget that it ever happened. She’s seen a psychologist to try and deal with the memories and believes that talking about the memory has helped her cope.
Esther McKay worked as a police officer in forensics for 15 years. She was medically discharged from the police force with PTSD in 2001. She couldn’t stop crying and food often resembled body parts. She says exposure therapy – where the therapist gets the patient the recount details about traumatic events in detail - saved her life. “I wasn’t able to eat certain types of foods because that would trigger a memory and I would feel physically sick. So during the therapy we had to slowly expose myself to those types of foods”
Laura Reaks found talking in detail about suffering sexual abuse as a child left her feeling re-traumatised. She wonders “how are we supposed to know when we’re able to go through…exposure therapy…What are the dangers of it going wrong?” Her current psychologist steers clear of asking about the abuse memories and instead talks about thoughts and emotions.
Scott Gardiner served in Iraq. He says while in Iraq, they might be eating breakfast when a rocket attack occurred. Once he was home, eating breakfast would trigger a traumatic memory. Scott has done exposure therapy and says it dulled some of the painful memories, but it was a difficult process and he’s unwilling to continue with it.
Paul Touzell was on his way to work in 1977 when a bridge collapsed on top of his train, crushing the passengers in front of him. It took Paul some 20 years to be able to speak about his memories, and he still struggles to be on trains or under bridges.
Dr Elizabeth Phelps is a psychologist and neuroscientist. She’s looking at how traumatic memories can be altered to remove the fear attached to them. Her research has shown that a simple memory can be edited if new information is given within the hour after the memory is recalled. But the research is still very limited - memories are stored in different parts of the brain and Elizabeth says researchers are just beginning to understand how these parts work together.
Professor David Forbes is a clinical psychologist and head of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health (ACPMH). He says painful memories can become a problem and develop into PTSD if they’re not able to be processed. David says that trauma-focussed cognitive behavioural therapy (including prolonged exposure therapy) is the best way to confront these memories but that many sufferers are reluctant to revisit a traumatic event in detail.