Post-traumatic stress disorder has been widely discussed in the media as service members return home from war and suffer lasting effects from their experience. However, PTSD also occurs among trauma survivors of all walks of life and all different trauma experiences. It is estimated that 7.7 million Americans are diagnosed with PTSD. Approximately 500,000 of these are veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Some traumas that may lead to PTSD include abuse, rape, crime witnesses, or natural disaster. It is important to note that while many people may experience trauma in their life, not everyone will develop PTSD. Some factors that may contribute a person developing PTSD include:
- Pre-traumatic experiences such as low socioeconomic status or childhood emotional problems may have caused individuals to learn poor ways to cope with stressors. As a result these individuals are less equipped to handle the effects of a trauma. PTSD does occur more in women which adds to traumatic risk.
- Peri-traumatic factors such as the severity of the trauma and a person’s proximity to the trauma. For instance, was the individual experiencing the trauma themselves or a witness?
- Post-traumatic factors such as re-exposure to the traumatic stressors.
Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories: intrusive memories, avoidance, dissociation, and hypervigilance.
- Intrusive memories can include flashbacks or nightmares about the trauma.
- Avoidance is a common behavior of those with PTSD which can include staying away from people or places that remind them of the trauma. Additionally, it may mean emotional avoidance such as feeling numb or guilty.
- Dissociation can be described as an out-of-body type experience or feeling that the world is not real.
- Hypervigilance may appear as being tense, easily startled, or difficulty sleeping.
PTSD can be treated with a variety of therapy modalities. Several common ones include cognitive processing therapy, EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and prolonged exposure therapy.
- Cognitive processing therapy is a therapy modality researched a developed by the VA for use with veterans, but is applied throughout all trauma experiences. It helps a person to process through their trauma. Many times a person has thoughts of their trauma that have affected the way they have handled the experience after. CPT aims to help a person modify those distorted thoughts and lead to a more healing place.
- EMDR utilizes eye movements to help refocus your thoughts from the trauma, to more effective ways of thinking. While it may sound unconventional, this therapy is highly researched and shown to be very effective.
- Prolonged exposure therapy involves re-experiencing the trauma, usually through intense visualization, in a safe environment. This type of therapy is indicated because many people with PTSD exhibit avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding people or places that remind them of their trauma. Through prolonged exposure an individual learns to take power back over their life and handle their PTSD symptoms more effectively. This therapy is heavily utilized by the VA.
While each modality differs in its approach, a person coming to therapy can expect to learn to appropriately process their trauma, understand how their trauma has negatively affected their life, and learn to cope with day-to-day triggers of their trauma. Severe cases may be treated with medications as prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Cy-Hope has counselors ready to help you move past your trauma. Call our intake specialist today!
Written by: Kristina Zufall, M.Ed., LPC-Intern