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DR. DRAYTON'S CASEBOOK:

1 - THE WOMAN WHO WAS SCARED TO DRIVE

31-07-2006

Over the coming months, psychologist Dr Mike Drayton will be opening his files and sharing the experiences of his patients with readers of The Stirrer. Although names and some details will be changed to preserve the anonymity of those involved, these are all real life cases. If they strike a chord with you, feel free to share your experiences on our messageboard.

"Sharon was sitting reading a magazine in my waiting room. She had dark curly hair and was dressed in a pair of old jeans and a jumper.

As she glanced up at me I was struck by the look of panic on her face.

By the time we reached my office her panic had escalated to pure terror as she began to tentatively tell me that she had been ina car crash and was now terrified of driving.

She put her head in her hands and began to sob violently.

By most people's estimation, Sharon was a successful woman.

She had a job as sales rep, for an electronics company. She was happilymarried with an eighteen-month-old baby son.

The onepart ofthe job she hated was having to drive to London once a month for the sales meeting.

This always meant getting home very late.

One night, following one of these sales meetings,Sharon was driving home to the Midlands on the motorway.

It was about 10pm and she was tired.

She was in the outside lane of the motorway overtaking two lorries whena pair of headlights emerged in the distance.

They looked to be heading directly at her.

At first, Sharon thoughtthe car must beon the opposite carriageway. But it wasn't.

To her absolute horror she realised that the other car was driving directly towards
her, in her lane and on the wrong side of the motorway.

At that moment she thought she was certain to die,and realised that therewas absolutely nothing she could do about it.

Sharon swerved into the crash barrier and the cars collidedwith an almighty crunch.

The driver of the other car, an elderly woman, died; incredibly, Sharon survived with onlyminor injuries.

A lucky escape? Of course. But although Sharon had few phsyical signs of her trauma, psycholgically she was badly scarred.

Whenshe was discharged from hospital a few days after the accident, she simply could not bring herself to drive.

Eventhe thought of getting into a car terrified her. At night she couldn't sleep.

Every time she closed her eyes she could see the headlights of the on-coming car coming at her and then she would hear the tremendous and sickeningthud of the collision.

When she did get to sleep she would wake upin the middle of the night screaming and covered in perspiration.

There was no relief during the day either.

Sharon hadfrequent flashbacks of the accident which caused her to panic.

Her family and friends commented on how ˜on edge" and irritable she was and Sharon would snap back at them.

These symptoms of panic attacks, having to avoid reminders of the accident, flashbacks and nightmares, constantly feeling tense and on- edge, screamed one diagnosis at me.

Sharon had developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

When she came to see me, justtalking about the accident would bring on apanic attack.

Even coming to see me was an ordeal, becauseshe knew she would have to discuss it all over again

But she plucked up the courage and we began.

I showed Sharon some breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to help her better manage her anxiety.

Then I gently encouraged Sharon to talk and talk and talk about the accident until she got tired ofit.

This might sound like a cruel therapy, but the boredom factor was crucial; it meant an endto her panic attacks.

I also encouraged Sharon to re-examine some of her distorted beliefs about the accident (she thought it was her fault that the other driver had died, for example, even though she had clearly done nothing wrong).

As well as all these fairly conventional techniques,I used a new technique in treating PTSD.

I asked Sharon to visualize the worst part of the accident, which was for her, the headlights coming straight at her.

Whilst she did this I asked her to move her eyes rapidly from side to side following some moving lights I have in my office.

It's a treatment called EMDR and in truth, nobodyis really sure howhow it works.

We are confident, though, that it is effective.

One theory is that the eye movements induced in EMDR mirror the natural eye movement process that occurs in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of sleep during which information is processed naturally.

In any event, Sharon came to see me every week, for three months. At the end of the treatment,she once again broke down in a flood of tears.

This time, though, they were tears of joy because she was better.

I heard from Sharon last Christmas when she sent me a card and a note saying she was back at work and doing her monthly journey to London, still hating it but not scared anymore."

Dr Mike Drayton

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