Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition caused by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. In the past, you might have heard it called shell shock or even battle fatigue syndrome (for those patients with a military background). But whatever you call it, it’s a serious condition with far-reaching consequences for patients and their loved ones Psychotherapy with a licensed therapist can help patients cope.
Events that trigger PTSD have common factors. They are situations evoking extreme fear, resulting in the victim feeling of helpless and horrified by its outcome. Some common events that might trigger the condition include:
- Events of war
- Witnessing a natural disaster
- Near death experiences
- Sexual or physical assault
- Sudden or unexpected death of someone they love
- A serious or intense accident
However, the patient him or herself does not have to have been the person experiencing these traumatic events. Health care workers, emergency personnel, and even family members of the person who experienced the event can develop the disorder.
Anyone who experiences one of these events can have reactions afterward, e.g., shock or anger, feelings of anxiety, guilt or fear. These reactions are common for a few weeks after the incident and do not indicate that the person is suffering from PTSD. However, when they don’t fade with time, and instead increase, it is an indication that PTSD might be a factor.
Most patients with PTSD will continue to have reactions to the event over a month later. However, that is not always the case with PTSD; in some cases, the triggering event for the condition might have occurred years before the symptoms start.
Family members and friends of patients experiencing PTSD often say that the patient “just isn’t the same.” They often describe the patient as unable to function the way they did before the event that triggered the condition. Patients with PTSD tend to experience four different types of symptoms:
- Reliving the event: Flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares are common. The anniversary of the event can trigger these reliving symptoms.
- Avoidance of reminders: Detachment and isolation are two common symptoms in this category. These two can be the result of shunning things, people or places that remind the patient of the event.
- Increase in Arousal (hyperarousal): Feeling jittery, restless, and antsy are common symptoms of this type. Patients might be easily startled or have problems concentrating. These types might also mean the patient can’t sleep well or has problems staying asleep. Hyperarousal might also mean they are quick to anger or are irritable They might also have physical manifestations of their excessive energy which can include high blood pressure, nausea and diarrhea, increase in heart rate and breathing, and muscle tension.
- Negative alterations in thoughts and mood: Many patients experience a change in their self perception and they way they perceive others. Fearful and shameful thoughts, along with feelings of guilt can also manifest in patients suffering from the condition. A common behavior for patients struggling with negativity is to avoid activities he or she used to like even if it isn’t related to the trauma.
The problems these symptoms create vary based on the patient’s age. Very young children might have delayed milestones (e.g.). speech delays or toilet-training), and might be anxious without their parents nearby. Older children from around age 6 to pre-teen might act out the event or draw it. In addition, you may see unusual behavior, such as aggressiveness or irritability. They might also want to avoid school. Teen-agers and adults tend to have the same challenges, which include feelings of shame or despair, depression, anxiety, and problems with drinking alcohol or substance abuse to name a few.
Treatments for PTSD are varied and depend on the age of the patient. Some involve medication only, while other involve psychotherapy and medication. The psychotherapy or counseling occurs with a therapist, who will use a technique suitable for the patient’s unique case. It can include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which could involve skills training to help with understanding or using a technique where the patient talks about the event until it doesn’t bother them the same way it initially did. Some therapists might try a therapy that involves changing the patient’s focus while they discuss the event.
To learn more about PTSD and some of the related treatments, please click here.
In addition to conventional therapies, a new treatment is gaining traction, particularly for veterans who do not respond as well as expected to the typical treatments. Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) uses elements used with other psychotherapy techniques. It has been successful in easing symptoms for combat-related trauma. The goal of ART is to “reprogram” how the memories are stored to reduce the intensity of physical and emotional symptoms associated with its recall. It has shown results much earlier for some patients than other treatments.
Our Psychologist, Dr. Suchithra Hirode, is trained in a variety of therapies to treat PTSD, including ART, and can use it to treat patients in our Tampa office.
To learn more about ART, please click here.
To read more about how this treatment is helping some patients, please click here.
If you or someone you love is experience symptoms of the condition, please call a licensed professional therapist to help with an appropriate treatment. PTSD is a serious condition caused by trauma in the patient’s life. Psychotherapy can help alleviate the symptoms and give the patient tools to help with coping with their condition so they can have the best chance possible to achieve wellness.