Category: Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Man in dress shirt sitting on a couch in a dark room, dealing with trauma or depression

Three Common Reactions to Trauma and How Therapy Helps

Trauma is one of the most common reasons why many individuals seek professional therapeutic help. In fact, recent studies estimate that around 70% of U.S. adults have experienced trauma at some point in their lives. In some cases, severe experiences of trauma can result in the development of a condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While reactions to trauma vary person to person, approximately 20% of all American adults who have experienced trauma will go on to develop PTSD. . This equals over 24 million people. While the condition itself isn’t uncommon, it still remains highly misunderstood by the majority of the population. These misconceptions have made it difficult for those with PTSD to not only understand their condition, but also to seek treatment. Myths about PTSD can lead to a misunderstanding of its symptoms, which has influenced misdiagnoses for some, while others may be too afraid to seek treatment at all.

Understanding Trauma

There are many experiences which can be classified as trauma. For some, it may be a car accident or natural disaster, for others it may be the harsh realities of combat. Unfortunately, trauma for many individuals stems from experiences of assault or abuse. Regardless of the source, however, trauma can ultimately have debilitating effects on those who suffer it, even long after the events took place. Specific reactions to trauma vary from person to person, but there are certain effects which seem to occur across the board. If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it may be a good idea to seek help from a therapist, preferably one who specializes in PTSD and trauma-recovery.

Three Common Reactions to Trauma

1. Nightmares

This one often goes without saying. Trauma frequently results in the occurrence of nightmares. These nightmares disrupt otherwise healthy sleep patterns. These nightmares come from come from the shock which the nervous system has endured in response to the trauma. This means that even as we sleep our minds try to process what happened. However, this doesn’t mean that the dreams are the exact trauma replayed. Rather, more often than not they simply share similar themes, such as death, fear, or feelings of being trapped.

2. Flashbacks

Similar but not quite the same to nightmares, flashbacks are when an individual essentially re-lives their trauma in their minds. These thoughts and memories are usually triggered by some external experience. Perhaps the person returned to the location where they experienced their trauma, or they encountered someone from their past that brought back the unpleasant memory. Triggers don’t necessarily need to be overtly harmful or upsetting. Something as seemingly innocuous as a busy street or what direction someone is approached in can act as cues for unpleasant memories to surface.

3. Self-Blame

Perhaps one of the most unfortunate effects of trauma is that it can lead to the victim blaming themselves as a result of the experience. For example, they might feel as though they did something to initiate the events which traumatized them, or, they may feel that they could have done more to prevent it. Regardless of where exactly this guilt originates, it’s development is not uncommon for those who have suffered trauma. Self-blame, guilt, and believing one had more agency than what they actually had is all too common for individuals who have experienced trauma, especially if that trauma is particularly severe and, therefore, even harder to come to terms with.

Therapy Can Help People Suffering from Trauma

When dealing with trauma and its effects the best thing a person can do is seek professional help and guidance. For those who have loved ones struggling with the effects of trauma, the best thing that can be done is to offer love and support as well as to recommend the assistance of a therapist. No one should have to face their trauma alone, nor is it necessary. At present, there are a number of highly-effective treatment methods for individuals struggling with PTSD or similar conditions. One of the most successful is a combination method which includes both therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatments. Some effects resulting from trauma can subside on their own if they’re relatively minor. However, if these and other more severe symptoms persist for a long period of time, such as weeks or months it may be an indication of something that requires medical intervention.

Call 561-338-7725 or fill out this contact form to schedule an appointment and discuss trauma with one of our Boca Raton therapists.
People using various exercise stations on a Florida Beach.

Exercise Emerges as New Way to Treat PTSD

PTSD is one of the most commonly misunderstood mental health disorders. According to statistics from the National Institutes of Health, Sidran Institute, and the Department of Veteran Affairs, collected by PTSD United, the socioeconomic impact of PTSD is quite heavy. In fact, it is reported that “the annual cost to society of anxiety disorders is estimated to be significantly over $42.3 billion, often due to misdiagnosis and under treatment. This includes psychiatric and non-psychiatric medical treatment costs, indirect workplace costs, mortality costs, and prescription drug costs.” With such high expense, it’s not surprising that anxiety disorders, especially PTSD, have some of the highest rates of healthcare service use. Luckily, this means that there are a wide array of treatment options for those struggling with PTSD and similar anxiety disorders.

A New Form of Treatment for PTSD

The most common and successful form of treatment for PTSD is a combination of therapy and carefully prescribed medication. Among the most frequently administered forms of therapy are what is known as Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy. The former, also known as CPT, consists of the therapist and the patient working together to devise new ways to cope with distressing thoughts and events.

Through CPT, the patient learns to identify the ways in which experiencing trauma has impacted the way they perceive the world around them. After all, it is this perception that alters how we think, feel, and act, especially around others. Conversely, Prolonged Exposure Therapy involves helping the patient approach their trauma-related thoughts, feelings, and situations that they may have been avoiding as a result of the traumatic experience itself. This practice stems from the idea that repeated exposure to these things in varying intervals can ultimately make them less distressing and thus less influential.

However, researchers are now discovering the ways in which we can treat and reduce symptoms of PTSD on a far more regular basis than a weekly meeting with a therapist. As it turns out, something as seemingly small as daily exercise can assist individuals struggling with PTSD, though it cannot replace therapeutic intervention. That being said, more than just a good way to maintain one’s overall health, exercise is become a viable alternative physical remedy for PTSD. In fact, Dr. Robert Muller, Harvard graduate and a Fellow of the International Society of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), reveals that “those who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.”

Exercise for a Healthy Body and Mind

Research conducted by Mathew Fetzner and Gordon Asmundson at the University of Regina confirms this claim with their finding that just two weeks of stationary biking can effectively reduce symptoms of PTSD and improve one’s mood. These results are compounded by further study conducted at Loughborough University where it was discovered that physical activity enhances the well-being of veterans with PTSD. According to their research, through exercise the veterans were able to reduce their symptoms as well as improve their coping strategies. Explaining these findings, Dr. Muller states that “symptom reduction in these studies seems to occur through a renewed sense of determination and hope, increased quality of life, and the cultivation of positive self-identity.” According to the researchers, short physical activities can help these veterans as well as other individuals with PTSD feel a sense of achievement.

Exercise has also been shown to increase what is known as respiratory sinus arrhythmia. This is a naturally occurring variation in heart rate which is linked to higher levels of emotion-focused coping. In other words, heart rate variation can help with coping with difficult emotions, which is why individuals with PTSD often lack this necessary arrhythmia.

How to Benefit from Exercise With Limited Ability

That being said, the researchers note that it may only be combat veterans who benefit so strongly from regular exercise, at least, according to present findings. Further studies are needed to determine the impact of exercise on non-military individuals struggling with PTSD, but these current results seem promising. The primary requirement for this remedy is the physical ability to participate. The most successful form of exercise to reduce symptoms, particularly of depression, seems to be aerobic exercise. However, the researchers note that this form of exercise may not be accessible to everyone, especially veterans who have been physically impaired from combat.

For these persons as well as others who are unable to do more physically demanding exercises, Dr. Muller suggests that “less physically demanding exercise may be an option.” He adds that “recent research shows that yoga, for example, may help individuals with PTSD focus on the present, reduce rumination, and combat negative thinking patterns.” Because of the recorded positive effects of exercise and physiotherapy on patients with PTSD, Dr. Muller advises that both medical researchers and clinicians alike should take note of this and similar alternative treatment methods for PTSD. In doing so we can aim to provide the greatest array of options to those affected by the otherwise debilitating condition.

Fill out a contact form or call 800-378-9354 to schedule an appointment with one of our Boca Raton Therapists.
Military husband and wife holding hands

Five Commons Myths About Treating PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is arguably one of the most commonly misunderstood mental illnesses. Yet it is among the most serious if left untreated. The National Center for PTSD reports that witnessing and/or experiencing trauma is not uncommon. In fact, they estimate that approximately 60% of men (6 in 10) and 50% of women (5 in 10) will experience at least one trauma during their lifetimes. Among the most likely traumas to occur by sex, women have a greater chance of experiencing sexual trauma whereas men are more likely to witness other violent traumas such as accidents, assaults, and even death. While witnessing trauma does not mean that one is guaranteed to develop PTSD, it is believed that approximately 7-8% of people (7 or 8 out of 100)  struggle with the disorder during a given year. This accounts for an estimated 8 million U.S. adults.

Five Common Myths About PTSD and Treating It

Although public awareness of PTSD has increased over the years, there still seems to be some pervading misconceptions about what exactly the disorder is and how it affects people. There is also some confusion regarding how to treat PTSD and its many possible symptoms, which range from feelings of loneliness and numbness to re-experiencing trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts. Moreover, there is, still, an unfortunate stigma which appears to be associated with the disorder, which may be contributing to the misinformation circulating.

Because of this, it’s important to address some of the major myths that exist regarding PTSD, not only to gain a better understanding of this condition for ourselves, but also for those currently suffering from its symptoms. Below are 5 of the most frequently occurring myths surrounding PTSD.

1. Everyone Who Experiences Trauma Gets It

Not everyone who witnesses or experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. As evidenced previously by statistics, only 7-8% of individuals are likely to have the disorder. That being said, it is possible for anyone to react badly to trauma, and in doing so, develop PTSD. Whether or not someone will have PTSD as a response to trauma depends entirely on the individual and how they process the circumstances.

Having PTSD doesn’t mean that the individual inherently did something wrong, it just means that the events which they witnessed or experienced had a deep impact on them. Everyone deals with trauma differently, and for some, processing these thoughts and emotions may be more difficult than others, and will necessitate intervention both therapeutic and possibly medicinal.

2. Only Veterans Suffer from PTSD

Any individual who has experienced some sort of trauma can develop PTSD. While this can, and usually does, include veterans, it is in no way limited to that demographic. Trauma can be more than just combat-related atrocities. For some, a traumatic event may be witnessing domestic violence or a natural disaster, for others, it may be experiencing physical abuse or sexual assault. What constitutes as trauma varies from person to person, however any traumatic event can trigger the development of PTSD. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to what causes the disorder or how it affects the individual.

3. PTSD is a Sign of Weakness

One particularly harmful myth is that PTSD is a sign of weakness, or that the condition itself is really “no big deal.” That being said, PTSD has nothing to do with one’s mental strength. True, there are some factors which may place certain people at a greater risk for developing the disorder than others, but those aren’t always within the person’s own control. Certain things which increase risk include whether or not the individual was able to successfully “save” or remove themselves from the situation which caused them trauma, or whether or not they were able to get adequate social support. Those with a pre-existing history or anxiety may also be at higher risk.

People who have PTSD are not being over-dramatic. Assuming that PTSD isn’t as bad as those suffering are making it out to be is reductive and harmful towards those individuals. PTSD can impact all areas of a person’s life, including their relationships, employment, and their overall quality of life. For some, the symptoms, without proper treatment, can be so debilitating that they turn to drugs and alcohol, or worse, suicide, as an answer for their suffering. This would not be the case if the condition “wasn’t a big deal.”

4. PTSD is Just a Personal Problem

PTSD affects more than just the individual suffering from it. It can also impact relationships and how they communicate with others. As alluded to previously, it can negatively affect one’s ability to perform their job, leading to increased absences, loss of focus, and reduced productivity, to name a few. On a personal level, PTSD can make it hard for someone to connect with others like they used to, making them seem distant and avoidant. This can be especially harmful because those struggling with PTSD, just like those with other mental health disorders, need love and support from friends and family to help facilitate the healing process. However, maintaining those relationships with PTSD can be a challenge.

5. There are No Treatments for PTSD

Perhaps the most dangerous assumption about PTSD is that there are no treatments available for it. While it is true that there is no one pill that can cure PTSD, there are several medications available which can help afflicted individuals manage symptoms. Psychotherapy has also been proven to be greatly beneficial to those struggling with PTSD as it can provide the necessary education and skills to help manage its effects as well as understand its causes.

To schedule an appointment to begin PTSD treatment with one of our therapists, call our office @ 561-368-3636.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, once called shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, is a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events. All children, adolescents and adults experience stressful events that can affect them both emotionally and physically.  Their reactions to stress are usually brief, and they recover without further problems.  However, an adult, child or adolescent who experienced a catastrophic event may develop ongoing difficulties with this disorder. Following the trauma, children may initially show agitated or confused behavior.  Individuals may also show intense fear, helplessness, anger, sadness, horror or denial.  Children who experience repeated trauma may develop a kind of emotional numbing to deaden or block the pain and trauma. This is called dissociation.  Children with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder avoid situations or places that remind them of the trauma.

What Are the Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder most often begin within three months of the event. In some cases, however, they do not begin until years later. The severity and duration of the illness vary. Some people recover within six months, while others suffer much longer.
A person with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder may also re-experience the traumatic event by:

  • Having upsetting and frightening dreams
  • Acting or feeling like the experience is happening again
  • Having frequent memories of the event, or in young children, play in which some or all of the trauma is repeated over and over
  • Developing repeated physical or emotional symptoms when the person is reminded of the event

Those with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder may also show the following symptoms:

  • Losing interest in activities
  • Having problems concentrating
  • Showing irritability or angry outbursts
  • Having problems falling or staying asleep
  • Worry about dying at an early age (in children)
  • Showing increased alertness to the environment
  • Repeating behavior that reminds them of the trauma
  • Showing more sudden and extreme emotional reactions
  • Having physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Acting younger than their age (in children – for example, clingy or whiny behavior, thumb sucking)

People with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder have symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as before the event occurred. The symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder may last from several months to many years.  Support from parents, school, and peers is important.

Who Gets Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Everyone reacts to traumatic events differently. Each person is unique in his or her ability to manage fear and stress, and to cope with the threat posed by a traumatic event or situation. For that reason, not everyone who experiences or witnesses a trauma will develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder was first brought to the attention of the medical community by war veterans, hence the names shell shock and battle fatigue syndrome. However, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can occur in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. People who have been abused as children or who have been repeatedly exposed to life-threatening situations are at greater risk for developing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Victims of trauma related to physical and sexual assault face the greatest risk for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Women are twice as likely to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as men. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder often occurs with depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders.

How Common Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

About 3.6% of adult Americans, about 5.2 million people, suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder during the course of a year, and an estimated 7.8 million Americans will experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at some point in their lives. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can develop at any age, including childhood. Women are more likely to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder than are men. This may be due to the fact that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, abuse, and rape.

How Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Diagnosed?

If symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder are present, a medical doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, the doctor may use various tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms. If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for an anxiety disorder. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder on reported symptoms, including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms. The doctor then determines if the symptoms and degree of dysfunction indicate Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is diagnosed if the person has symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder that last for more than one month.

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