Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develops after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. This traumatic event impacts the ways the person physically and psychologically responds to stress. In some cases, PTSD can develop after a family member or friend experiences danger or harm.
People who have experienced trauma would have many reactions after it. Most people recover from the initial symptoms. Those who do not may be diagnosed with PTSD.
Symptoms usually begin three months from the traumatic event. However for some people, the symptoms may not appear until several months or years later. To be diagnosed with PTSD, the person must have all of the following for at least a month:
- At least one re-experiencing symptom
- At least one avoidance symptom
- At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms
- At least two cognition and mood symptoms
Re-experiencing symptoms include:
- Reliving the trauma by having flashbacks
Avoidance symptoms include:
- Avoiding places or events that remind them of the traumatic event
- Avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the traumatic incident
Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:
- Easily startled
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
Cognition and mood symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Self blame
- Having a negative outlook about self and others
- Lack of interest in once enjoyed activities
- Detached from friends and family
- Living through dangerous or traumatic events
- Little social support after the event
- High levels of stress
- Lack of coping skills
- History of physical, sexual, or substance abuse
Exposure therapy allows people to safely face their fears and traumatic experiences. This is through imagining, viewing images or writing about the traumatic event. The therapist provides strategies for people with PTSD to cope with their fears, and help them view the event in a realistic way. This approach involves increasing clients’ traumatic tolerance.
Cognitive therapy enables people with PTSD to recognise their dysfunctional cognitive patterns about the event. Additionally, it can also enhance beliefs about coping abilities. The therapist assists clients to cope with these distressing memories in a realistic way.
Somatic Experiencing aims to relieve PTSD symptoms, by focusing on bodily sensations. Developed by Peter A. Levine, he claims that trauma does not cause PTSD symptoms, but the trapped energy does. Somatic Experiencing suggests the body’s state of balance is disrupted when there is trauma. Usually when there is adversity, the body is in a flight, fight, or freeze state. However, the body cannot be regulated when the body is denied the opportunity to express the traumatic event such as feeling anxious, being hypervigilant and aggressive. This stuck energy causes trauma symptoms. Therefore, Somatic Experiencing involves regulating the body into a balance of restfulness and alertness. This is through tracking body sensations and meaning attached to the trauma. Experiencing the sensations related to trauma allows the body to fully process it. The therapist helps clients in developing internal states of relaxation, tension, and respiration cycles to allow the body to discharge the trapped energy. Through Somatic Experiencing, clients become aware of the sensations in their body which is also helpful for their everyday lives.
EMDR involves creating new associations with traumatic memories to alleviate the distress experienced from them. During EMDR sessions, the therapist directs clients’ eye movements, while clients relieve their traumatic experiences. Clients begin to process their negative feelings associated towards their traumatic memories. Furthermore, recalling distressing events when attention is diverted often lessens emotional reactions.
Hypnotherapy involves using techniques to delve into clients’ psychology. Since traumatic events are painful, those memories are difficult to be integrated with other life experiences. Hence, hypnosis is used to reduce PTSD symptoms and connect memories and feelings associated with those traumatic experiences. Through hypnosis, clients access their unconscious mind to process their emotions and beliefs. This allows clients to release and transform their horrifying experiences to form a more balanced sense of self.
Janna is our in-house blog writer and therapy specialist. She is supporting The Therapy Platform users towards successful therapy experience.
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