Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder caused by exposure to traumatic events. The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” About 8% of Americans—or 24.4 million—struggle with PTSD today.
The disorder results in disruptive symptoms that can intensify without treatment. If you suspect you or a loved one suffers from PTSD, seek a mental health therapist or doctor for evaluation. There are many treatments for PTSD which can provide relief and help you enjoy life to its fullest again.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of PTSD?
Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder relive a traumatic event over and over again with the same fear and stress response.
The DSM-5 criteria for PTSD, produced by the American Psychiatric Association, include the following symptoms:
- Intrusive thoughts: These may include involuntary memories, upsetting dreams, or flashbacks.
- Avoiding reminders of the event: People, places, objects, or activities may bring back upsetting memories. PTSD sufferers may avoid them for fear of a triggered memory or serious injury.
- Negative thoughts and feelings, especially about oneself: These might include beliefs like, “I am worthless,” or “People can’t be trusted.” Negative persistent feelings may include shame, fear, helplessness, and anger.
- Anger and reactivity symptoms: These include being easily startled, trouble concentrating or sleeping, irritability, and angry outbursts.
A PTSD diagnosis requires specific criteria. Generally, PTSD symptoms need to last for longer than a month after the traumatic experience. In some people, they may last several months or years. Sometimes, PTSD symptoms don’t emerge until long after the traumatic event has passed.
What Are the Types of PTSD?
There are three main types of PTSD. These are all in comparison to a normal stress response. A normal stress response occurs when healthy adults experience a single traumatic event and have mild symptoms of PTSD for a few weeks.
The following are conditions which go beyond a normal stress response:
- Acute stress disorder—Symptoms may include panicked reactions, dissociation, and lack of self-care and personal responsibilities. Acute stress disorder results from recurring traumatic events or a severe single occurrence. Clients need to display at least nine symptoms related to intrusive thoughts, negative mood, dissociation, avoidance, or arousal.
- Comorbid PTSD—It’s actually more common for post-traumatic stress to occur with another disorder or related conditions than it is for it to occur alone. Comorbid PTSD means that a client also presents with a disorder like substance abuse, major depression, or anxiety disorder. It’s best to treat these disorders through co-occurring treatment rather than separately. This is because of the unique ways the disorders may influence each other.
- Complex PTSD—This form of PTSD occurs when people experience prolonged traumatic events, often from childhood. Examples include childhood sexual abuse or severe neglect. Dissociation, amnesia, and extreme difficulty controlling emotions like anger or panic are common. Antisocial personality disorder, a condition which makes it difficult for someone to empathize with others, may also occur.
What Can You Expect in Therapy for PTSD?
Therapy can help you heal from this destructive and overwhelming disorder. Therapy for PTSD has three main goals:
- Improve your symptoms
- Teach you skills to cope with your symptoms
- Restore your self-esteem
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. Through CBT, you will learn how your thoughts influence your feelings, which then influence your actions and behaviors. In individual, group, or family therapy, you’ll learn to better control your thoughts and feelings. This will bring you relief from the constant stress response that comes with PTSD.
Other PTSD therapies include:
- Cognitive processing therapy—This treatment features weekly individual sessions of 60-90 minutes each. You’ll begin by exploring the events and how they have shaped you. You’ll then learn about the unhealthy ways you’ve framed these experiences—such as by blaming yourself. Your doctor will help you reframe your trauma and learn strategies for living with your memories.
- Prolonged exposure therapy—This therapy is useful for those who’ve been avoiding their traumatic experiences. In individual sessions of about 90 minutes, you’ll learn to unpack and face your memories. This will occur in a safe environment with your therapist. You’ll learn coping skills like deep breathing and meditation to help you through this process.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)—This is a newer treatment that also helps you face traumatic memories. Your therapist will ask you to concentrate on a repetitive action – such as moving her hand back and forth. You will then explore your traumatic event and note what arises mentally and physically in the process. This treatment de-sensitizes you to painful memories and allows you to remember them without the intense feelings of distress.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)—PTSD affects brain chemistry in a number of ways. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, uses electromagnetic pulses to target specific areas of the brain. TMS for PTSD has shown to be effective in reducing symptoms. TMS sessions last on average 18-19 minutes but could last up to 40 minutes depending on your needs. HPR Treatment Centers offers TMS for PTSD at a variety of locations.
- Medications—Sometimes therapists or doctors will prescribe medications to help you recover. They are not typically enough treatment on their own. Antidepressants like fluoxetine or sertraline help decrease overall feelings of anxiety and stress. Medications like prazosin can help with insomnia and nightmares.
When Should You Start Seeking Treatment for PTSD?
If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s important to get help right away. Contact your primary care provider or a mental health clinic to see if you meet the criteria for PTSD. This is the first step in finding relief from the burden of your traumatic memories. With therapy, medication, or a combination of both, you can find joy and satisfaction in everyday life once more.
HPR Treatment Centers offer convenient, fast-acting relief from PTSD at each of our comfortable and welcoming clinics. We also offer flexible financing options to cover the cost of your PTSD treatment. Take back control of your life today by giving us a call.