Psychological Reactions to Traumatic Accidents

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It is common for people to suffer from a range of psychological reactions after a traumatic experience such as a motor vehicle accident or any other life-threatening incident.
In the first instance, individuals may feel anxious and apprehensive. They may suffer from such symptoms as sleep disturbance, poor concentration, irritability, and loss of interest in activities.  They may experience intrusive thoughts or images related to the traumatic experience. Such recollections are commonly distressing and individuals will often make efforts to block such thoughts or recollections from their mind.
People affected by traumatic accidents may feel sad and withdrawn and may be more detached from others.
Having an understanding of such reactions can assist people’s psychological recovery. The support of other people including friends and family members can be especially important in aiding psychological recovery from accidents.


Photograph: Cristian Palmer

Sometimes the aforementioned reactions and other forms of psychological distress can be sufficiently debilitating or long-lasting that it can be worth seeking psychological therapy.
This would especially be the case if individuals are suffering persistent nightmares related to trauma if they are resorting to alcohol or illicit drugs to manage painful feelings, if symptoms are persisting beyond a month or two, or if the person has limited social supports it is worth considering whether to pursue therapy.
More disruptive psychological reactions following traumatic accidents include such conditions such as  Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or Depression which can further limit people’s capacity to work or to interact with others.
Clinical psychologists or other psychologists who have received specific additional training have specialised skills and experience in assisting individuals to recover from such conditions. Therapy commonly includes an educational component to help individuals further understand their symptoms. Treatment also typically includes the teaching of strategies to manage anxiety including breathing techniques, relaxation techniques, and other coping skills. Therapy sometimes encourages individuals to deliberately recall aspects of their traumatic experience in a manner that helps to reduce the emotional impact of such recollections.
It is not uncommon for people to feel depressed at some stage of their recovery.
This is often associated with losses such as restrictions from any injuries, the loss of one’s previous sense of wellbeing or temporary incapacity to continue with work or other interests. Individuals may experience a sense of guilt or shame associated with the accident or their reactions to it. Various therapy techniques can assist individuals to deal with such negative experiences by recognising and altering any unduly negative patterns of thinking which can contribute to such difficulties.
Finally, therapy focuses on other strategies to assist individuals to resume previous routines and interests.
Recovery from accidents can be further complicated when individuals suffer from physical injuries and pain. There is a range of pain management strategies that can assist people to cope with such additional difficulties. Individuals sometimes benefit from being involved in a group therapy process where they might meet others who were seeking to cope with similar challenges. It is important to understand that the vast majority of individuals make a good psychological recovery from traumatic accidents. Even those who have suffered from long-term or severe trauma reactions will commonly recover to the point where their symptomatic distress is relatively mild in the longer term. However, it may take considerable patience to accept slow and gradual progress during the rehabilitation process, especially if physical injuries are involved. Following their recovery from trauma reactions, individuals may have a heightened sense of their own resilience and a deeper understanding of their priorities in life: this commonly includes a heightened recognition of the importance of significant relationships and an appreciation of everyday activities which offer a sense of pleasure and fulfilment.



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