By Nancy Bohl-Penrod, Ph.D., Director of the Counseling Team International (TCTI)
In the summer of 2015, San Diego firefighter/paramedic, Benjamin (Ben) Vernon developed post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) after surviving a violent knife attack while on duty. His personal account of that day and what followed, can be found in Unexpected Nightmares, published February 2016 in JEMS magazine. 1
This article illustrates how PTSD can take hold of an otherwise healthy and well-adjusted person. Left untreated, it can manifest in many ways. There are typically four phases of PTSD, which are supported by The National Center for PTSD. Our counselors refer to these phases in combination with information we offer through our Public Safety Peer Support trainings.
The phases of PTSD are:
- Threats to life
- Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness
- Loss (e.g., loved ones, home, possessions)
- Dislocation (e.g., separation from loved ones, home, familiar settings)
- Feeling responsible (e.g., feeling as though he/she could have done more)
- Inescapable horror (e.g., being trapped or tortured)
- Human malevolence (particularly difficult to cope with deliberate human actions)
- Accepting/Gradual Testing and Re-Testing
- Emotional numbing
- Intrusive thoughts/ flashbacks
- Sleep disturbance
- Anxiety and fear
- Loss of interest/ burnout
How to Psychologically Survive
- Talk to someone you feel safe with and can share your feelings
- Don’t withdraw
- Maintain a normal schedule
- Take care of yourself. Try to get rest, eat well and exercise.
- Seek professional help by someone with experience in PTSD
- All Employee Assistance services through work are confidential
- Phone numbers should be publicly posted or on employer website
- Talk to a trained peer supporter if available in your workplace
I want to emphasize that everyone is different; requiring a professional evaluation of what may work best for an individual. There is much written on the available treatment options and I encourage everyone to become informed.
FF/PM Benjamin Vernon referred to receiving EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, an integrative psychotherapy.
If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic event and continues to experience any or all of the symptoms listed, please seek help. It is the first step on a long journey, but as mental health counselors, we are dedicated to help you return to a healthier and balanced life.
Thank you, Ben, for your bravery in sharing your story. The Counseling Team wishes you continued recovery and future success.
The Counseling Team International
Serving Those Who Serve Us.
To download handouts on some of the information on PTSD above, please visit our Resources section
- Ben Vernon, Unexpected Nightmares, JEMS Magazine, February 2016