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Understanding PTSD

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Healing from PTSD won't erase a past trauma, but it will stop it from determining your future.


"You don't need to suffer from repeated intrusive and terrorising thoughts about a past traumatic event - Healing from PTSD is possible."


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Typical events such as a war, a severe accident, rape or physical violence can result in PTSD. However, PTSD can also result from witnessing or hearing details about a traumatic event.

It is crucial to understand that PTSD, while traditionally associated with War veterans, can happen to anyone of any age, gender or ethnic background. However, research shows that women are two to three times more likely to develop PTSD than men (Olff, M. 2017). Additionally, individuals from economically disadvantaged communities and those who have experienced high levels of childhood adversity are more likely to experience PTSD at some stage in their lives (Schalinski, I. et al., 2016).

Symptoms


Generally speaking, people with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings associated with their experience. While it is quite understandable that a person would reflect on such an event, the specific symptoms of PTSD usually follow a pattern. Although these symptoms vary in intensity and severity from individual to individual and the list is not exhaustive, they often include the following emotional, behavioural and cognitive changes.


Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories; distressing dreams; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks can be so disturbing that the person feels they are re-living or witnessing the actual traumatic event.


Avoidance: A person may actively try to avoid any reminders of the traumatic event. Avoidance may include avoiding people, places, activities, and situations that might trigger distressing memories. A person might also deliberately try to avoid talking about their thoughts or feelings as they relate to the event.

Alterations in cognition and mood: Such changes may lead to an individual unable to remember or access essential details or aspects of the event. Also, they may develop distorted beliefs about the cause and consequences of the event, which can lead the individual to blame themselves or others wrongly. The individual may find it hard to engage or enjoy activities they previously enjoyed and may start to feel estranged or detached from others.

Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Arousal and reactive symptoms may include a person being irritable and engaging in angry outbursts; behaving recklessly, self-medication through drug or alcohol use, or behaving in a self-destructive way; being hyper-vigilant of one’s environment; being easily startled; easily distracted or not being able to sleep.


For children 6 years old and younger, signs and symptoms may also include:

  • Re-enacting the traumatic event or aspects of the traumatic event through play

  • Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event

Intensity of symptoms


The severity of PTSD symptoms may lessen over time. However, when a person is generally stressed out or remembers what they went through, they may experience more severe PTSD symptoms. An individual might, for instance, hear a loud noise and remember a painful event. A person may recollect details of their assault after hearing or seeing a news article about a sexual assault. Although most people have symptoms similar to those mentioned above in the days following a stressful event, symptoms usually continue longer than a month and seriously interfere with everyday functioning or cause significant suffering for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD.


Typically, symptoms appear three months after the event for most people, although they can sometimes appear later and linger for weeks, months, or even years. PTSD usually co-occurs with other diseases strongly related to it, such as depression, drug misuse, memory problems, and other conditions affecting physical and mental health.


Treatment

It is also important to remember that not everyone who experiences trauma develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, not every person with PTSD requires therapy. Some individuals who experience PTSD symptoms see their symptoms progressively subside and recover independently. Other people fortunate enough to have strong social networks discover that they can get by just with this help. However, many people feel a level of psychological discomfort and anxiety that necessitates medical or psychological help. It is also critical to understand that PTSD is treatable.



Therapy for PTSD


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a therapy that aims to help you manage problems by changing how you think and act. Trauma-focused CBT uses various psychological techniques to help you cope with the traumatic event. Typically 8 to 12 weekly sessions of trauma-focused CBT are required, although fewer may be needed. Sessions are for 60 minutes.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a psychological treatment that’s been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. It involves recalling the traumatic incident in detail while making bilateral eye movements, usually by following the movement of your therapist’s finger. Number of sessions may vary.

Sessions are for 60 minutes.




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