Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that normally follows someone after a major traumatic event in one’s life such as abuse, rape or experience of a natural disaster. Post-traumatic stress disorder can also be created by a series of traumatic events throughout one’s life instead of one major impacting moment. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are categorized as:
- Reliving the event(s) through nightmares or constant flashbacks. These are normally experienced alongside strong uncomfortable reactions to situations which remind one of the traumas.
- Avoidance seen by isolating from people and places that remind one of the events, emotional numbing and repressing. Feelings of depression are common especially in regards to pessimism on one’s future possibilities.
- Arousal in the way of increased awareness, irritability and anxiety. Difficulty concentrating and exaggerated responses to being startled are not uncommon.
There is no official test for post-traumatic stress disorder; diagnosis is done on assessment of symptoms and trauma history. Normally the extent of time on symptoms makes the distinction between post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder; a similar disorder whose symptoms normally last up to a month while PTSD symptoms can last years if not treated.
Those who have developed post-traumatic stress disorder commonly self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Because of this often PTSD patients enter treatment with a substance abuse problem creating a need for a dual diagnosis treatment plan.
Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder is possible with a variety of different methods. The main method is to encourage the patient to no longer avoid remembering the traumatic event but to talk about it and process it. This in turn hopes to start the process of desensitization; where the patient is no longer strongly and negatively affected by the past trauma. This is a necessary step for recovery.
In treatment the patient explores their thoughts and feelings on the trauma. They may have to work through feelings of ‘survivors guilt’, especially when the trauma comes from natural disasters or acts of terrorism. Survivor’s guilt happens when they blame themselves for surviving but friends or family didn’t.
There are specific types of therapy normally used in the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder:
1. Trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy: this helps the patient to identify thought processes which affect their moods and feelings. Through cognitive therapy the patient will in turn learn how to change their though processes away from patterns which lead to depressed or anxious moods. Thoughts are often irrational and motivated by self-hatred; this therapy helps to normalize their processes.
2. Exposure therapy: Through this therapy they learn to expose themselves to feelings and thoughts which they had normally feared, avoided and repressed. The patient will relive their trauma with a therapist by constant repetition of the event leading to desensitization as the patient processes the trauma more and more each time they talk about it.
3. Group therapy: Group therapy is useful as both a process group and a way to relate to others suffering from the same disease, albeit from different causes. Patients can learn from each other and support each other through their recovery. These groups can help patients to open up and cope with the memories of their trauma.
4. Family therapy: this is important in education for the family about the condition of post-traumatic stress disorder. Through the family therapy both the patient and family member learn how to better and effectively communicate with one another and in so doing improve their relationship and support one another.
5. Medications: It is not uncommon for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder to be prescribed medications to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety or depression so as to be able to more effectively work through and process the trauma causing these symptoms.
6. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR involves elements of cognitive behavioral therapy and sensory stimulations such as audio, visual or touch. EMDR allows a patient to rapidly process and become desensitized to the traumatic events of the past as it ‘unfreezes’ the brain’s information processing system.
One can recover from post-traumatic disorder and lead a fulfilling and functional life through effective therapy as long as the patient opens themselves and stops avoiding the trauma of their past.