• Ten Things You May Not Know about PTSD, Part 1

    Most people who think of PTSD think of soldiers returning home, fighting the demons of combat. Of course, that’s true. PTSD occurs when an event overcomes the brain’s ability to cope. The National Institute of Mental Health explains that PTSD occurs among those who have experienced shocking or scary events and have trouble recovering from the trauma. PTSD is experienced by children and the elderly, men and women, with varying symptoms. You may be surprised to learn the following facts:

    1. Symptoms can appear years after the trauma.

    Some people will experience symptoms right after an event occurs. But the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that symptoms can be delayed for months and even years. In order for PTSD to be diagnosed, symptoms must be present for at least one month (sleeplessness, jumpiness, nightmares, emotional numbness, difficulty concentrating, etc.). People who take longer to develop symptoms may have difficulty recognizing their struggles as PTSD. Everyone’s brain is different.

    Tired college professor in classroom

    2. Women are more likely to develop PTSD.

    A review by the American Psychological Association concluded sexual trauma against females, especially childhood sexual trauma, may cause more post-traumatic stress than any other type of trauma, including physical violence and war. Men are more likely to develop substance abuse problems or violent behaviors in response to their trauma.

    3. People with PTSD can’t just “get over it” and “get on with life.”

    Trauma rewires the brain and re-routes perception and reasoning. It changes the way people see the world and respond to it. Educate yourself about PTSD treatment. Conventional counseling is not the same as PTSD treatment.

    It’s important seek out a qualified mental health specialist, just as you would a cardiologist or hematologist. Find a therapist who specializes in treating PTSD. While some therapists may have experience in multiple areas, patients feel the most understood when they find someone who understands PTSD and can create a successful treatment plan. If you’ve been diagnosed, ask your therapist how many clients they’ve treated with your issue, and if you have any doubts, consider looking elsewhere.

    4. PTSD symptoms may not be obvious.

    People often expect PTSD to manifest in rages, confrontation, and anxiety attacks. But sometimes PTSD symptoms don’t appear for years. And while some people’s symptoms may be obvious, others’ may be subtle. For instance, dissociation–a symptom of PTSD–is often mistakenly thought to be multiple personality disorder. The truth is that dissociation often looks like zoning out, staring into space, mood swings, or lack of focus.

    PTSD can also look like depression. Or a person can not want to talk about the event that traumatized the person (avoidance). For some people, it looks like isolation from friends and the world in general.

    5. Therapy can help you recover. 

    Multiple forms of treatment are available for PTSD. Intensive Trauma Therapy in Morgantown, West Virginia, offers a 5-10 day one-on-one intensive program. This therapy approach focuses on “rewiring” the brain by reconnecting the circuits interrupted by trauma. Intensive Trauma Therapy’s uses the Instinctual Trauma Model of therapy that focuses on re-integration of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Other forms of therapy include individual psychotherapy (typically once a week for an hour), using one of the following forms of therapy:

    • Behavioral or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This treatment approach looks at ways in which a person thinks about a problem, their learned responses to certain triggers associated with that problem and ways in which their thinking affects their emotional state. This treatment often uses a combination of exposure (deliberately thinking about an event or confronting a trigger) and relaxation training along with cognitive restructuring or changing one’s thoughts or beliefs about an event or trigger. This process tends to “desensitize” a person’s response to reminders of the event so that it no longer carries the same emotional impact.
    • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This treatment pairs the traumatic memory with “bilateral stimulation” of the brain by tracking the therapist’s finger or a string of lights with the eyes or listening to tones. Thoughts, feelings, sensations and beliefs are activated, and the tracking helps reduce emotional and physiological reaction to the memory. This desensitization helps the person reprocess negative beliefs about themselves (“It was my fault”) to adaptive, healthy, more accurate beliefs (“I did the best I could”).
    • Group Therapy: Group therapy can be very helpful following a traumatic event. It provides a safe and supportive environment in which to discuss a shared experience with others. People often feel that “nobody understands,” and a group can help you to feel less alienated, normalizing your reactions to an abnormal event.

    Our next post will continue with other aspects of PTSD that may be unfamiliar to you.

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