Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD Definition
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD Symptoms
People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.
PTSD is marked by clear biological changes, as well as, psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that it frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD Treatment Plan
Treatment for PTSD typically begins with a detailed evaluation, and development of a treatment plan that meets the unique needs of the survivor.
- Generally, PTSD-specific-treatment is begun only when the survivor is safely removed from a crisis situation. For instance, if currently exposed to trauma (such as, ongoing domestic or community violence, abuse, or homelessness), severely depressed or suicidal, experiencing extreme panic or disorganized thinking, or in need of drug or alcohol detoxification, addressing these crisis problems becomes part of the first treatment phase.
- Educating trauma survivors and their families about how persons get PTSD, how PTSD affects survivors and their loved ones, and other problems that commonly come along with PTSD symptoms. Understanding that PTSD is a medically recognized anxiety disorder that occurs in normal individuals under extremely stressful conditions is essential for effective treatment.
- Exposure to the event, via imagery, allows the survivor to re-experience the event in a safe, controlled environment, while also carefully examining their reactions and beliefs in relation to that event.
- Examining and resolving strong feelings such as anger, shame, or guilt, which are common among survivors of trauma.
- Teaching the survivor to cope with post-traumatic memories, reminders, reactions, and feelings without becoming overwhelmed or emotionally numb. Trauma memories usually do not go away entirely as a result of therapy, but become manageable with new coping skills.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD Therapeutic Approaches Commonly Used
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Definition
- CBT involves working with cognitions to change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Exposure therapy, is one form of CBT unique to trauma treatment which uses careful, repeated, detailed imagining of the trauma (exposure) in a safe, controlled context, to help the survivor face and gain control of the fear and distress that was overwhelming in the trauma. In some cases, trauma memories or reminders can be confronted all at once (“flooding”). For other individuals or traumas it is preferable to work gradually up to the most severe trauma by using relaxation techniques and either starting with less upsetting life stresses or by taking the trauma one piece at a time (“desensitization”).Coping Skills are learned for anxiety (such as breathing retraining or biofeedback) and negative thoughts (“cognitive restructuring”), managing anger, preparing for stress reactions (“stress inoculation”), handling future trauma symptoms, as well as addressing urges to use alcohol or drugs when they occur (“relapse prevention”), and communicating and relating effectively with people (“social skills” or marital therapy).
- Pharmacotherapy (medication):
- Medication can reduce the anxiety, depression, and insomnia often experienced with PTSD, and in some cases may help relieve the distress and emotional numbness caused by trauma memories. Several kinds of depression treatment and antidepressant drugs have achieved improvement in most (but not all) clinical trials, and some other classes of drugs have shown promise. At this time no particular drug has emerged as a definitive treatment for PTSD, although medication is clearly useful for the symptom relief that makes it possible for survivors to participate in psychotherapy.