Most of us won’t get through life without our own fair share of stress and heartache. But some people experience not just stress, sadness or grief, but actual trauma. This can be from events like being involved in a bad car accident, sexual assault, a natural disaster, witnessing a horrible tragedy or war.
The result of experiencing such events is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition where the mind is unable to process the event as it processes ordinary life events. The result is a brain that misfires information, causing the person to live much of their life distressed, as if the event were still happening to them.
Symptoms of PTSD
There are many symptoms associated with PTSD, but the most common ones are:
• Psychological and physiological distress at reminders
• Avoidance of internal and external reminders
• Dissociative amnesia
• Negative beliefs about oneself and the world
• Distorted blaming of oneself
• Negative persistent emotional states
• Loss of interests
• Detachment from loved ones
• Hyper vigilance
• Exaggerated startle response
• Difficulty concentrating
• Difficulty sleeping
• Irritability or outbursts of anger
• Self-destructive or reckless behavior
Causes of PTSD
Researchers are not altogether clear on why some people experience PTSD and others don’t. What makes one soldier come home from war with PTSD and another one not develop the disorder?
The best we can guess is that development of PTSD is likely from a combination of complex factors such as neurological, stress, life experiences, personality, and genetics. It is also worth mentioning that pre-traumatic psychological factors (low self-esteem, for example) may increase the risk factor for developing PTSD.
How Can Trauma be Treated?
There are effective treatments for PTSD. One common form of treatment for PTSD is something called cognitive behavioral therapy CBT. This kind of therapy involves meeting with a specially-trained therapist over a number of sessions to learn strategies and techniques that will reduce and/or eliminate symptoms of PTSD such as recurring thoughts, emotional numbness, sleep issues, and concentration problems.
Another effective treatment is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. This modality incorporates bilateral stimulation (most often eye movements), which is believed to cause the brain to reprocess the memory that was seemingly trapped in the limbic system, and change the way the emotional memory is adapted and stored in the neuro-networks. This approach can also be used to help patients who continue to suffer from developmental trauma; the deep negative beliefs that we form about ourselves in childhood and adolescence. We often carry those negative beliefs into adulthood, preventing us from being fully present in relationships or attempting new goals.
Beyond finding a trained therapist, it’s important to find one you and your family feel comfortable with, so make sure to interview a few candidates to see who might help you on your journey to wellness.
If you or a loved one are suffering from PTSD and would like to explore treatment options, please be in touch. I would be more than happy to see how I may be able to help.