PTSD can hurt. It does not only affect your mind and behavior; it affects your body as well. A wide range of diseases and conditions—things like headaches, ulcers, allergies, and heart problems—are caused or made worse by PTSD, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. Most PTSD sufferers have chronic anxiety, which is strongly linked to heart diseases. Anxiety also suppresses the function of your immune system, making you susceptible to developing infections.
Bad things happen… even to good people
We can’t explain why trauma has to happen. There’s no reason nor excuse for such a shocking event. Losing your beloved pet; being physically assaulted; having a terminal illness, or losing a friend from an accident—these things are beyond your control. You can’t predict trauma. You didn’t make it happen. What you can do is to start examining yourself, your symptoms, and why you are experiencing flashbacks and fears from that experience.
In her book The PTSD Workbook, Mary Beth Williams urges us to look at ourselves and our ability to cope with trauma. Establishing your sense of self will help you understand more about the impact of trauma in your life. It also serves as your reference point for who you want to become and what you want to accomplish moving forward.
Next is to remember what happened to you. Remembering the details of the event can decrease the fear associated with it. Although the traumatic event feels dangerous, memories of the event are not. Why do you need to process your traumatic memories? “Processing memories helps you to integrate them into your past,” said Williams. Your resilience, your willingness to seek help and find treatment can influence your recovery.
Treatment options for PTSD
An effective PTSD treatment must be able to reduce symptom frequency, intensity, and severity. Some treatments can appear to reduce multiple clusters of PTSD symptoms, whereas others seem to be more effective in addressing one cluster but not the others. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy (ET) have been the most exhaustively tested and validated treatment approaches for PTSD. In some cases, especially in the presence of a comorbid condition (e.g., depression or substance abuse), the use of combined treatments can be beneficial.
There are many effective treatment approaches for PTSD; however, therapists and counselors are not alike. Their approach depends on their knowledge and training, thus they may treat you somewhat differently. It is very important to choose a licensed or certified professional with experience in treating PTSD.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is a broad category of psychotherapy in which the goal is to alter the thought process of the patient in order to change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to the event. This trauma-focused treatment approach teaches individuals how to confront and eventually overcome their fears, intrusive thoughts, and avoidance behavior. It is typically conducted over a relatively short period of time, about 8-12 sessions for a few months.
Exposure therapy of prolonged exposure therapy is also a form of CBT. It helps sufferers gradually confront feared reminders and memories of the traumatic event. This approach can be initially challenging because the person will have to confront situations they have been avoiding. One of the activities includes letting the patient talk about the trauma repeatedly and with increasing detail to reduce the trauma’s power to cause fear and PTSD symptoms.
Stress Inoculation Training
The focus of stress inoculation training (SIT) is on anxiety management. It was developed to protect (inoculate) patients from their PTSD symptoms and reaction by honing their anxiety management skills prior to exposure. These anxiety management techniques can be in the form of:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Deep breathing exercises
- Positive thinking
- Thought stopping
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR is a type of CBT in which sufferers move their eyes back and forth, following their therapist’s finger or pen as it moves from left to right repeatedly, while thinking of the traumatic event. The aim of therapy is to confront and lessen the power of the trauma memories. Patients are also provided with coping techniques such as positive visualization and relaxation methods to tackle insistent distressing emotions or memories.
There are different types of medications used for the treatment of PTSD. The FDA has approved only two medications for PTSD under the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drug class:
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
SSRIs are antidepressants that affect the brain chemical serotonin—the neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, anxiety, and sleep. These drugs are also effective in decreasing anxiety and depression symptoms. However, there is no evidence that SSRIs are more effective than psychosocial therapies in children with PTSD. Taking medications alone may not be able to address all of the symptoms associated with the disorder. Therefore, it is generally recommended that sufferers take medications together with CBT and other forms of psychotherapy that are specifically designed to treat PTSD.