Understanding PTSD

We all have experienced a traumatic or stressful situations in our lives that has impacted us in different ways. Traumatic experiences have an effect on us and our daily routines. After experiencing a traumatic situation, you may feel detached from everyday life, you may suffer nightmares or flashbacks. Over the course of a few weeks, these symptoms usually go away. When they don’t or when they later re-emerge, a person is said to have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition created by exposure to a traumatic and/or distressing event outside the range of usual human experience, one which would be markedly distressing to almost anyone, and which causes intense fear, terror, and helplessness. The event may have happened recently or a long time ago. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can occur in anyone who experienced or witnessed a life-threatening or violent event. These events include but are not limited to:

  • military combat
  • acts of terrorism
  • natural disasters
  • automobile accidents
  • personal attacks such as physical assault

About one in three people with PTSD develop a long-lasting form of the disorder and women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD in their lifetime.

PTSD disrupts daily life. It has the possibility to make it hard to do your job and complicates relationships with family and friends. PTSD usually isn’t a person’s only problem. People with PTSD often have trouble with depression, substance abuse, and other physical and mental illnesses. They are also six times more likely to attempt suicide than those without PTSD. Many people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder fail to seek treatment because of not having correctly identified or recognized their symptoms as trauma-related or not knowing their symptoms are treatable.

What Causes PTSD?

People respond to a life-threatening event by fighting or fleeing. PTSD is associated with changes in brain function and structure. There’s also a tendency for key stress hormones to increase. Risk factors that may contribute to PTSD include a family history of anxiety, early separation from parents, earlier childhood abuse, or prior trauma.

What about treatment?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is treatable. Treatment for PTSD through psychotherapy involves helping the trauma become processed and integrated so that it ultimately functions as other memories do, in the background, rather than with a life of its own. Therapy for PTSD initially focuses on coping and comfort, restoring a feeling of safety, calming the nervous system, and educating the person about what they are experiencing and why and – through the process of talking – interrupting the natural cycle of avoidance. Therapy provides a safe place for trauma survivors to tell their story, feel less isolated, and tolerate knowing what happened.

Psychologists help patients make connections between feelings and symptoms occurring in the present and aspects of the traumatic event(s). Through treatment, survivors begin to make sense of what happened and how it affected them, understand themselves and the world again in light of it, and ultimately restore relationships and connections in their lives.  Even in the absence of full-blown PTSD, people may also be traumatized by an event, such as the death of a loved one, in a way that continues to be painful or interfere with their lives.

Trauma and unresolved grief can cause:

  • overwhelming feelings
  • depression
  • agitation and anxiety
  • mistrust of others
  • difficulty in relationships
  • shame
  • guilt
  • despair or a sense of meaninglessness
  • helplessness and hopelessness

Trauma involves feelings of grief and loss. And grief can be traumatic, especially when it involves sudden or unnatural deaths.

Successful treatment of PTSD allows the traumatic feelings and memories to become conscious and integrated so that the symptoms are no longer needed and eventually go away. This process of integration allows the trauma to become a part of normal memory rather than something to be perpetually feared and avoided, interfering with normal life, and frozen in time. Recovery involves feeling empowered, reestablishing a connection to oneself, feelings, and other people, and finding meaning in life again. Recovery allows patients to heal so that they can resume living.

“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When some enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.” ~ Danielle Bernock

~Monretta Vega, LPC

Monretta Vega, LPC

Email: monretta@hsvpcs.com

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