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  • Writer's pictureDavid Gagné

What to Expect - Psychological Assessment and Treatment of PTSD Following a Motor Collision

When an unexpected challenge occurs, our mind and body must adjust in order to

process the information. In the case of a shock event such as a motor accident, the effects of the experience can become detrimental to mental health and emotional wellbeing. The trauma of a car crash, whether physical injury occurs or otherwise, can have harmful lasting effects unless appropriate treatment is accessible. But how, and when?

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health issue that a person can develop following a traumatic event. Often described as ‘shell shock’ due to initial association with soldiers of war, it is a disorder of the mind where the nervous system remains in a state of hyper alertness due to an inability to healthily process an emotional event. For those who have experienced a motor collision, both the crash itself and the following psychological distress can trigger PTSD.


Motor collisions are an extremely common cause of reported PTSD globally. Millions of motor collisions happen every year within the USA. Of this number, a significant proportion can become sufferers of PTSD to varying extents. As global awareness of mental illness progresses, we are becoming collectively more aware of the fact that untreated PTSD can become hazardous to both physical and cognitive wellbeing.

Added to which, PTSD can lead to loss of work . This can be due to an inability to adhere to professional responsibilities or being signed off work for extended periods of time. For an affected individual, not being able to take up regular activities and tasks as they usually would do (pre-crash) can lead to further demotivation and mental distress. Untreated, the condition can have catastrophic effects on every area of a person’s life.


The symptoms of PTSD vary from person to person. Flashbacks, reoccurring nightmares, intrusive thoughts, anxiety attacks, nausea and a heightened feeling of reactivity are some of the key symptoms to observe. Further signs of trauma difficulty include self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, emotional avoidance, inconsistent memory loss and self-destructive or reckless behaviour. It’s important to note that the full list does not to need to be ‘ticked’ for PTSD to be diagnosed.

The symptoms of PTSD can alter over time. Traumatic events can cause emotionally numbness as the psyche struggles to make sense of what has happened. Or symptoms can dissipate over the course

of a few weeks. The spike of adrenaline following a collision can last for several days, fooling someone into feeling less emotionally affected than they really are. With this in mind, efficient assessment is crucial in order for accurate diagnosis to take place.


Some individuals who have been through a motor crash may find that their trauma event symptoms do not occur until several weeks or even months following the event. The activity of organizing a new car, rearranging professional commitments, taking care of affected

family members and similar can be a welcome distraction. Such distraction can prevent the mind from processing what has happened. This can lead to a delayed response to the shock itself.

It is very normal and completely expected that a person will suffer emotional distress in the weeks following a motor collision. It is a major shock to the system and it will take time for the mind and body to adjust to what has happened. However, if new or previously atypical symptoms are present more than 4 weeks past the event itself then it might be the case that PTSD is becoming a problem. This is the point where efficient diagnosis is crucial.


The key to effective diagnosis of any mental health condition is a combination of expert assessment in combination with personal record keeping. Writing down changes in mood, energy levels, and thought processes can be helpful in identifying potential PTSD. This practice can aide personal intuition as to what is happening. It is also a useful reference tool to aide a professional in making a correct mental health appraisal.

Qualified professionals must make the ultimate diagnosis of PTSD. Licensed psychologists are able to make an informed decision about the mental wellbeing of an individual after a motor crash. There is no time limit on when this can happen. PTSD can develop

over time as initial shock dissipates and true symptoms begin to display. What is most important, is that the person making the diagnosis is qualified to recognize the condition in it’s varying forms.


Thankfully, there are numerous effective methods of treatment to lessen the effects of the PTSD condition—even curing it altogether in some cases. Talking therapies such as counselling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can contribute to a lessening in symptoms over time. They can facilitate a crucial sense of developed resilience for the person affected also. The more informed and empowered the individual feels, the more capable they will be to overcome the condition.

EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) is a popular method of treatment for PTSD due to it’s noted effectivity. Not solely relying on verbal communication, this form of therapy uses the part of the mind that processes daily emotional experiences in order to realign conscious reactivity. When we sleep, our minds use REM to do this. EMDR harnesses this ability to access the same advantageous processing while the person is awake.

No matter what kind of trauma a person has been through, we all deserve to enjoy a balanced sense of mental wellbeing and a good state of physical health. When a motor collision occurs it can have a devastating personal impact. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that appropriate treatment and

diagnosis happens at the right time. From there, anything is possible!

Are you looking for physical or psychological assessment following a motor collision? Do you have a client in need of honest and accurate diagnosis? Get in touch with us to access the information you need to progress in the right direction.

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