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PTSD, also called post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition a person may develop following a traumatic event or experience.

Studies show that approximately half of Americans experience at least one traumatic event throughout their lifetime.

Although many individuals struggle with PTSD symptoms after a distressing event or experience, some research shows that only a small number of people develop PTSD.

Here, we will explore PTSD, its symptoms, and effective treatments that can help. 

If you or a loved one are struggling to cope after a traumatic event or think you may be experiencing PTSD symptoms, you must consult a mental health professional who can provide support and treatment.

You do not need to suffer in silence; contact our friendly team today to discuss treatment options and next steps.

What is PTSD?

As mentioned, PTSD is a mental health disorder that develops after an individual experiences a deeply distressing or upsetting event or series of traumatic events.

A person may develop PTSD after they have experienced, witnessed, or been threatened with violence or other traumatic event. 

If you suffer from PTSD, you might avoid particular situations that induce unwanted feelings or memories about the traumatic incident, experience sudden bouts of intense, uncontrollable anger, have intrusive thoughts or flashbacks related to the event, or feel deeply sad, anxious, or frightened much of the time.

Although extremely unpleasant, these reactions are common in trauma survivors, and you must know that PTSD is not a sign of weakness but the body’s natural response to something upsetting or frightening that can, fortunately, be diagnosed and treated.

What types of events can trigger PTSD?

Various situations and events can cause a person to develop PTSD, including the following:

  • The sudden death of a loved one
  • Being involved in a severe accident, such as a car accident
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Experiencing or witnessing domestic violence
  • Severe health problems that may result in you (or a loved one) being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU)
  • Being involved in a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or flooding
  • Kidnapping or torture

It’s essential to note that what one person finds traumatic, another may not. 

This distinction is crucial in helping us understand more about the effects of the condition and why PTSD may develop in some people and not others.

For example, two people involved in a car accident may have markedly different feelings, beliefs, and responses to the same event. 

One person may experience no PTSD symptoms and fully recover from the incident without complications. At the same time, the other suffers debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that impair their ability to function and cope with daily living.

Trauma affects each person differently, and knowing the signs and symptoms of PTSD can help you get the support and treatment you need to heal quicker and avoid any long-term complications.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD is characterised by various distressing symptoms and behaviours that can impair your ability to function and prevent you from leading a happy, fulfilling, healthy life.

Symptoms of PTSD are grouped into four primary categories, including:

  • Intrusive thoughts, feelings, and memories
  • Avoidance
  • Heightened arousal
  • Changes in thoughts, feelings, and beliefs

Below are some common PTSD symptoms that a person may experience following a traumatic event:

  • Flashbacks about the traumatic event
  • Recurrent distress or anxiety
  • Avoidance behaviours, such as avoiding thoughts or feelings about the event, dismissing or resisting conversations about the traumatic incident, or staying away from anything that may remind you of what happened, including people, places, situations, or objects
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Being easily frightened or startled
  • Engaging in destructive or reckless behaviours, including dangerous driving or substance abuse
  • Pervasive feelings of anger, fear, horror, shame, or guilt 
  • Feeling detached from yourself or others, which may cause relationship difficulties 

Risk factors

Researchers aren’t entirely sure why some people develop PTSD while others don’t.

However, some common risk factors may increase the likelihood of someone developing PTSD after experiencing something painful or traumatic.

Researchers have identified several root causes that may potentially trigger PTSD, including the following:

  • A family history of mental illness, such as depression or anxiety.
  • Your inherited personality traits or temperament.
  • Chronic stress, including how much trauma you have experienced in your childhood or adult life and the severity of these experiences.
  • The way your brain perceives stressful events, including how it regulates hormones and chemicals when you experience stress.
  • Having a substance use disorder such as cocaine or alcohol addiction.
  • Having a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.
  • Not having a solid or safe support system.
  • Exposure to chronic or intense trauma.
  • Working as a first responder, in the military, or another stressful job.

PTSD treatment

Despite the unpleasant symptoms associated with PTSD, various treatment options can help trauma survivors reframe their past experiences, allowing them to manage the disorder.

Treatment may vary and depend on the severity and nature of an individual’s trauma and their family and medical history.

 However, most PTSD treatment programs aim to do the following:

  • Alleviate and reduce your PTSD symptoms.
  • Teach you strategies and coping skills to manage your condition.
  • Restore your confidence and self-esteem.
  • Improve daily functioning.
  • Help clients put down any self-defeating habits or unhealthy vices like drug or alcohol abuse.

The most effective treatment plan for PTSD often includes an integrated treatment program, such as a ‘whole’ person approach to recovery. 

It uses various therapeutic techniques and modalities to help individuals achieve resilience, acceptance, and lasting recovery from their traumatic experiences.

Treatment for PTSD may include the following: 

Prolonged exposure therapy (PE)

Those who have experienced trauma may avoid any reminders of what happened in their past.

Prolonged exposure therapy can help you confront your fears or worries so that you are no longer held back or limited by your painful history.

PE usually includes eight to ten sessions, each lasting around ninety minutes.

During treatment, your therapist will teach you deep breathing exercises to help alleviate your PTSD symptoms, allowing you to manage your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions when thinking about your traumatic experience(s).

In addition, your therapist may ask you to write a list of the things you have been avoiding, including specific places or situations that trigger your anxiety or PTSD symptoms. 

You and your therapist will then plan how to confront your fears individually.

Other PE sessions may include recounting your traumatic experience(s) in a recorded session where your therapist encourages you to listen to the recording at home.

Studies show that engaging in homework as part of a treatment plan can help ease symptoms over time.

Cognitive processing therapy

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy approach used to treat those who have experienced trauma, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Dr. Patricia Resick developed CPT, a therapeutic approach firmly rooted in cognitive-behavioural therapy principles. 

This treatment is designed to help trauma survivors better understand and process their traumatic experiences and ultimately thrive because of them.

CPT offers various benefits for people living with PTSD, including the ability to:

  • Understand more about trauma and its many effects: CPT helps to psychoeducate people about trauma and how it may impact their behaviours, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and beliefs. This treatment helps individuals link their current challenges to their past experiences, allowing them to understand and manage their PTSD symptoms better.
  • Effectively and safely process emotions related to traumatic experiences: CPT often includes discussing your feelings and how your traumatic experiences may be affecting your emotions and behaviours. It encourages people to safely explore any feelings related to their traumatic past and express them without fear or judgement, allowing these experiences and any emotions attached to them to be appropriately processed.
  • Develop healthy coping skills: CPT teaches people specific skills and techniques to manage emotional distress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships, helping them manage their PTSD symptoms better.

CPT usually involves around twelve sessions over several weeks. It is delivered in a structured format, and the duration of treatment may vary from person to person.

EMDR (eye movement desensitisation reprocessing therapy)

EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1989 and is a pioneering psychotherapy treatment designed to treat PTSD and other types of trauma.

Studies show that trauma often becomes ‘stored’ in the body, producing many unpleasant symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidance behaviours.

During a crisis or stressful event, an individual often does not have time to process these experiences properly. Hence, the memories and the emotions attached to them remain lodged in the body and the nervous system.

EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences to bring these to an adaptive resolution. (What is EMDR? EMDR Institute, Inc.)

Therapists trained in EMDR use various techniques and strategies to change how traumatic memories are stored in the brain, allowing you to process them effectively.

Once these memories are processed, they no longer have a painful influence. You don’t forget about the memories as such, but they no longer have a tight hold over you or your life.

An EMDR therapist may use a combination of techniques, including:

  • Side-to-side eye movements
  • Hand-tapping 
  • Audio stimulation

This treatment seeks to help you work through and unpack any painful memories with your body’s natural functions to help you recover from the effects of trauma, including PTSD and complex trauma. (What Is EMDR Therapy? PsychCentral, Hope Gillette, 4th August, 2021.)

As well as PTSD, research shows that EMDR can help with other mental health conditions, too, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dissociative disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Sleep issues
  • Personality disorders
  • Stress
  • Substance addiction

Stress inoculation training

Stress inoculation training, a type of CBT, can be delivered individually or in a group setting.

This treatment focuses on changing how a person perceives and manages the stress related to their traumatic experiences, allowing them to manage their PTSD symptoms better.

People having this treatment do not have to go into great detail about their traumatic past if they don’t want to, as the focus is centred on how a person deals with the stress associated with their history rather than discussing the traumatic event.

You may learn specific breathing techniques and other strategies to help you manage your PTSD symptoms, including how to cope with negative thoughts through body and mind relaxation.

Studies show that individuals who participate in stress inoculation training should have the skills to manage any stress related to their PTSD symptoms after around three months of treatment.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Much research has illustrated the effectiveness of CBT in treating PTSD and other types of trauma.

Since CBT’s primary focus is to help individuals change maladjusted thoughts and behaviours, this treatment can help encourage those with PTSD to re-evaluate their thinking patterns and assumptions related to their traumatic history.

Trauma survivors often blame themselves for what happened in their past, leading to much shame and distress for the individual. CBT encourages people to re-conceptualise their understanding of traumatic experiences, including their knowledge of themselves and their ability to cope.

CBT’s main aim is to help reduce PTSD symptoms, decrease avoidance behaviours, and promote a sense of self-control, confidence, and empowerment for those who have experienced trauma.

Somatic experiencing

Experts have noted the effectiveness of somatic experiencing when treating PTSD and other forms of trauma, such as complex PTSD.

Developed by Peter Levine, somatic experiencing or SE is based on the idea that traumatic experiences can disrupt the nervous system, preventing people from fully processing their traumatic experiences.

SE helps individuals become aware of bodily sensations arising from their emotional challenges and use this awareness to acknowledge and work through upsetting or painful sensations. 

Somatic experiencing helps individuals access and address any ‘stored’ trauma in the body, allowing them to work through emotional symptoms such as guilt, anger, shame, or regret. 

SE uses a body-first approach to PTSD recovery based on the principle that healing or freeing this felt experience of trauma can also heal the emotional experience. (How Somatic Experiencing Can Help You Process Trauma, Healthline, Crystal Raypole, 28th February 2020.)

Additional treatment options

Other effective PTSD treatments, particularly when used as part of a holistic recovery plan, can include the following:

PTSD treatment at Centres for Health and Healing

Centres for Health and Healing provides personalised addiction and mental health treatment to clients in Ontario and surrounding regions.

Our dedicated team of multidisciplinary professionals diagnoses and treats various mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Using various integrative approaches and modalities, we treat the ‘whole’ person, not just their symptoms, which helps to uncover the root causes of an individual’s emotional issues and not just what is present on the surface.

In our experience, integrative treatment approaches are the most effective, particularly for those who have experienced trauma, a complex condition that requires a multifaceted treatment approach.

Our team delivers exceptional client care in a supportive, compassionate, and tranquil environment that helps to facilitate lasting healing and recovery from PTSD and other forms of trauma.

To learn more about our PTSD treatment program, contact our friendly centre today for further advice and support,

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