Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Many adults and children who have experienced or witnessed violent or traumatic events suffer severe and disabling symptoms of distress.  The developmental, emotional and psychological injuries caused by violence and trauma are frequently underestimated.  We all use the word “trauma” in every day language to mean a highly stressful event.  But the key to understanding traumatic events is that it refers to extreme stress that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.  Even though experts differ on their definition of trauma the important point is that it is an individual’s subjective experience that ultimately determines whether an event is or is not traumatic.  It is important to keep in mind that stress reactions are not just psychological, but physiological as well.   The normal physical responses to extreme stress lead to states of hyper-arousal and anxiety…..when our ‘fight-or-flight’ instincts take over.  Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may occur soon after a major trauma, or it can be delayed for months after the event.

An estimated 7.8 million Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, and can occur in anyone who experiences or witnesses a life-threatening event that causes feelings of intense fear and/or helplessness.  PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood.

Symptoms of PTSD fall into three main categories:

1.         Reliving of the event —

People with PTSD repeatedly re-live the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma.  These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares.  Individuals suffering from PTSD can also experience    extreme levels of distress when things remind them of the trauma.

2.         Avoidance –

The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that remind him or her of the trauma.  This behavior can lead to feelings of isolation and detachment as well as a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

3.         Arousal –

This can include difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability, anger            outbursts, difficulty concentrating, difficulty relating to others, and being easily startled.

Treatment of PTSD aims to reduce symptoms by encouraging recall of the event, expressing feelings, and gaining a sense of control over the experience.   Although no magic drug has been found to cure PTSD, it can be effectively treated, managed, and minimized through the combined use of medication and intensive therapy.  People with PTSD may also find it helpful to attend PTSD support group meetings and share their concerns and feelings with others with similar experiences.

Psychotherapy for PTSD involves helping the person learn skills to manage symptoms and develop ways of coping.  Therapy also aims to teach the person and his or her family about the disorder, and help the person work through the fears associated with the traumatic event.  There is a variety of highly effective psychotherapy approaches used to treat people with PTSD:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves learning to recognize and change thought patterns that lead to troublesome emotions, feelings, and behavior.
  • Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavior therapy that involves having the person exposed to the object that triggers symptoms until they become used to it and no longer avoid it (called graded exposure and flooding).
  • Group therapy may be helpful by allowing the person to share thoughts, fears, and feelings with other people who have experienced traumatic events.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a complex form of psychotherapy designed to alleviate distress associated with traumatic memories.

Medicines can help reduce anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD.  Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, can be effective in treating PTSD.  A number of other medicines used in psychiatry may be prescribed which are directed at the patient’s symptoms.

There are many highly qualified and capable individual counseling therapists within the tri-counties region with vast experience in treating PTSD.  PTSD support group information in our area can be obtained by contacting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-California) at 888-868-2649.

Please do not wait to seek help.  The symptoms and day-to-day life disturbance caused by PTSD rarely gets better on its own.  Get help……get help now… will get better.