What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
- Do you have fears that you don’t understand?
- Do you have difficulty keeping healthy relationships?
- Do you have outbursts of anger or rage?
- Do you have recurring memories that cause distress?
If I could just make this memory go away.
In order to have PTSD one must first experience trauma. A trauma is a terrible experience that is so overwhelming that it cannot be processed by the brain and body. It’s too much for the body and mind to deal with. Traumatic experiences are usually described as exposure to events that cause intense fear, helplessness, horror, or feelings of loss of control.
Trauma affects your brain wiring. It disrupts normal functioning and disturbs neural network circuits and connections.
With most people, the effects go away over time. However, with some people the effects stay locked into the person’s body and mind. Over time, this results in unresolved trauma that causes a number of difficulties, many of them severe and life-changing.
Long associated with military service and sexual violence, PTSD is becoming more recognized as something that can happen to anyone. This includes police officers, firefighters, first responders, victims of violence, victims of natural disasters and abused or neglected children.
PTSD can involve a single event, numerous or repeated events, or sustained/chronic experiences. A single trauma is limited to a single point in time. A rape, an automobile accident and the sudden death of a loved one are all examples of a single trauma.
Child abuse and neglect are examples of sustained or chronic trauma, the negative effects of which are carried into adulthood. As a result, the adult has difficulties with relationships, work, and physical health.
Many people suffer from trauma and PTSD.
Most people who have experienced trauma will not get PTSD. However, about 7 million adults have PTSD during a given year.
According to the National Center for PTSD and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 3.6% of U.S. adults had PTSD in the past year. The occurrence of PTSD among adults was higher for females (5.2%) than for males (1.8%).
PTSD is more prevalent among females than among males across the lifespan. This seems to be due to females’ greater likelihood of experiencing sexual assault and physical violence.
The younger the age when the trauma occurs and the more complex the trauma, the more likely an individual will suffer from PTSD.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)
Research also tells us that childhood trauma, abuse and neglect affect the process of brain development, resulting in unhealthy changes in the brain. These unhealthy changes are carried into adulthood resulting in a much higher risk for mental health and physical health problems.
Military veterans are especially vulnerable.
Military veterans are a special group that I have personal experience with. I practice cognitive processing therapy, which was created specifically for the military. It’s now being used for civilians as well. I’m also familiar with military culture including the warrior ethos and the priority of mission first.
PTSD will affect your life in many negative ways.
PTSD symptoms can be hard to understand if you aren’t aware of how what happened is affecting you. You may wonder what is making you react and behave the way you do.
PTSD Symptoms Include:
- Recurring bad memories
- Recurring bad dreams
- Dissociation or detachment from reality
- Triggers or reminders of the experience that causes distress
- Not remembering certain periods of time
- Exaggerated negative beliefs
- Distorted, irrational thinking
- Detachment and isolation from others
- Inability to feel positive emotions
- Hypervigilance and threat assessment
- Self-destructive behavior
- Disturbed sleep
- Outbursts of anger, rage or aggression
- Violent behavior
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
- Discomfort in crowds
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Low-stress tolerance, irritability or impatience
- Feelings of being unworthy
Unresolved trauma can be resolved.
Good PTSD treatment requires a patient approach—delaying the focus on traumatic memories until the person feels safe in their daily life and has enough emotional regulation to tolerate the stress of remembering terrible experiences.
An important issue in understanding the impact of trauma is the meaning that the person has attached to the traumatic experience.
Trauma is defined by the experience of the survivor. The first principle of recovery is the empowerment of the survivor. The person must be the creator and judge of the recovery process.
Only psychotherapy can treat the underlying cause of PTSD symptoms. Medication can only lessen the severity of the symptoms. Depending on your situation, medication may be warranted to allow psychotherapy to take hold.
There are a number of effective ways to treat PTSD including:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy
- Sensorimotor Therapy/Somatic Experiencing – focus on brain, body and nervous system
- Experiential and Emotion Focused Therapy
- Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Internal Family Systems Therapy
First and foremost, I create a safe space where you can express yourself freely with unconditional support and without judgment.
I use a multi-disciplinary approach that is tailored to your specific experiences and needs. I mostly use emotion-focused therapy and cognitive processing therapy, depending on the person and their situation. I am also a proponent of mindfulness practices.
How do I know if treatment works? What does recovery look like?
If PTSD treatment is successful, you should be able to soothe yourself, regulate your emotions, have healthy relationships and know you have control over your life.
The psychologist Mary Harvey defines seven criteria for the resolution of trauma:
- The bodily symptoms of PTSD have become manageable.
- The feelings connected to traumatic memories can be regulated.
- The person has the power to choose over memories; they can either be remembered or put aside.
- The traumatic event and the feelings evoked is a story that makes sense.
- The person’s damaged self- esteem has been restored.
- The person’s important relationships have been reestablished.
- The person has rebuilt a rational system of meaning and belief that includes the story of the trauma.
In reality, all of these issues are connected and come in and out of play as recovery progresses. Recovery is not a straight line forward. Getting better sometimes requires going backward in order to go forward again. It sometimes requires going sideways and in circles while continuing an overall forward trend. There will be times you may question whether treatment is being effective. If so, discuss this with your therapist.
There’s no way I’m going through that experience again.
The experience itself is in the past and can’t happen again. The current feelings associated with that experience must be brought out and processed. However, I will be very careful with this. We’ll only work on what you can safely handle.
What if I don’t heal?
That is unlikely but it’s possible. However, not getting treatment will certainly not heal you so it’s better to try and have hope.
I’m tired of feeling like a victim.
I’m sure you are. The best thing you can do about it is get help from an experienced professional.
I practice trauma-informed care.
I’ve worked in psychiatric hospitals where I have treated trauma and PTSD. In one hospital I worked in an inpatient unit that only treated active duty military personnel for PTSD, sexual assault and substance abuse. In that environment I practiced cognitive processing therapy, which I continue to use with both military and civilian clients.
I have also worked with many adult clients who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).
Contact me for help.
If you think you may have PTSD or you’ve experienced trauma that is not resolved, counseling can help. Don’t hesitate to call me for a free consultation.