What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
It is normal to feel scared, alone or that life will not return to normal after a traumatic event. However, if these feelings persist for more than a month, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events include experiences like: motor vehicle accidents, being the victim of a crime, physical or sexual abuse, combat experiences, unwanted sexual contact, and many others. PTSD creates a change in a person’s overall emotional, psychological and behavioral reactions following exposure to a traumatic event. The person may have directly experienced the event or seen it happen to another person. PTSD can happen after hearing that a traumatic (violent or accidental) event happened to a close friend or family member. The person may have heard traumatic stories repeated in detail.
What kind of symptoms might occur?
An intrusion may be a nightmare, a flashback or an unwanted memory related to the traumatic event. During a flashback, the person feels as though the event is happening again now. It is different from a typical memory. The person experiences long lasting or intense physical distress when reminded of the event. Reminders or triggers can be internal or external.
Avoidance is a common symptom of PTSD. You may avoid memories, thoughts or feelings that have to do with the event. You may avoid people, places, conversations, activities, things or situations related to the traumatic event. The avoidance can go on for years after the event. It can cause those suffering from PTSD to stop participating in certain areas of life.
Changes in thinking or mood
The person must be experiencing a change in at least two of the following aspects of thinking and mood.
- The person cannot remember an important part of the traumatic event.
- Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about self, others and the world. For instance, “I’m ruined,” “The world is all bad,” or “I’m bad.”
- Incorrectly assuming that the event was your fault or wrongly placing blame on others.
- The person experiences ongoing negative states like fear, horror, guilt or shame.
- Reduction or loss of interest in important activities.
- Feeling detached or estranged from others.
- Persistent inability to experience positive emotions like happiness, satisfaction or loving feelings.
Changes in reactivity or arousal
The person is experiencing a change in mood in at least two of the following ways.
- The person is more irritable and has more angry outbursts for what seems like little or no reason. Moreover, these outbursts can end in verbal and physical aggression.
- Reckless and self-destructive behavior.
- Exaggerated startle response.
- Problems with concentration.
- Sleep Disturbance.
The person suffering PTSD must have had the symptoms for more than a month. In addition, the symptoms are not caused by alcohol or drugs, prescribed medication or another medical issue.
PTSD is treated primarily through several types of well researched psychotherapy. In addition, sometimes medication and therapies are used together in treatment. Three types of Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that have been shown to be helpful in treating PTSD are: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Prolonged Exposure therapy (PE), and STAIR (Skills Training for Affective and Interpersonal Regulation). Psychotherapists require specific training in these types of therapy. Several therapists at MSAM are trained in Prolonged Exposure Therapy.
Prolonged Exposure (PE) teaches people to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feeling and situations that they have been avoiding since the trauma.
- A validated, evidence based treatment. Researched for more than 20 years. Designed for chronic PTSD and related depression, anxiety, and anger.
- A flexible therapy modified to fit the needs of individual clients.
- Specifically designed to help clients process traumatic events and reduce trauma-induced psychological disturbances.
- Produces clinically significant improvement in about 80% of patients with chronic PTSD.
Video about PE
PTSD can occur in all people. It can happen to people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age. PTSD affects approximately 3.5 % of U.S. adults. Therefore, an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD. PTSD causes significant distress and impairment in social connections. It also has a negative effect on work activities. However, there are effective therapies available based on research over the last 20 plus years. If you or someone you care about is experiencing all or any of the above symptoms please contact me or another professional for a full evaluation.
For people in the Philadelphia, Main Line, Montgomery County, and surrounding areas, please reach out for help.