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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK


Group therapy takes on traumatic memories

PTSD can lead to feelings of isolation and lack of control

Patients suffering mental disturbances in the aftermath of traumatic events could benefit from a new therapy, doctors have said.

The team who treated former hostages Terry Waite and John McCarthy believe starting in group therapy and moving towards individual counselling can better help patients combat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Patients with the condition are haunted by unpleasant memories of traumatic events, which they can end up re-living in their minds against their wills.

Soldiers and those working in the emergency services are most likely to be exposed to traumatic events, so are most likely to be affected by the disorder.

However, people who experience violent incidents such as rape or robbery - either on themselves or as a witness - are also at risk.

Three-month programme

The new therapy lasts for 90 days and involves focussing on the traumatic events themselves rather than what is "wrong" with the patients.

Dr Walter Busuttil and Dr Gordon Turnbull, of Ticehurst House Hospital, East Sussex, said the therapy's success speaks for itself.

Dr Turnbull said: "We are trying to help people process their memories of the trauma that caused the fear and kick-start a natural process.

"Many of these people have been in and out of hospital through the revolving door for many years. There is another way.

"It takes extensive work over time, but we believe the therapy is proving itself."

War treatment

The two doctors, as well as treating the Beirut hostages, ran psychological debriefings for RAF air crews during the Gulf War.

They achieved a return to service rate of 80%, and it was their success in earlier projects that encouraged them to develop the three-month programme, they said.

The new therapy starts with groups of people with severe PTSD discussing their experiences

Dr Turnbull said: "What is clear is that the wider the group the greater the success rate. The common hallmark of trauma is isolation.

"Group work provides the antidote to that."

Individual therapy

The groups are then reduced until counselling takes place on a one-to-one level.

Dr Busuttil said: "We believe our comprehensive programme can help even the worst cases. One of our patients was an inpatient for five years before she came to us.

"She was hearing voices, but this was caused by the abuse she suffered. Now she is out of hospital, and training to be a veterinary assistant."

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