Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder. It can develop after a person experiences emotional trauma that involved the threat of injury or death. When you think your life or someone else’s is in danger, you may feel afraid or that you have no control over what’s happening around you. Most people experience stress after a profoundly emotional or traumatic event, but not everyone will develop PTSD. If reactions do not go away after a time and continue to disrupt daily living, you may be suffering from emotional trauma or PTSD.
Causes and Risks for PTSD
PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults, though it can develop at any age, including childhood. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men and there is some evidence that susceptibility to PTSD may run in families.
Those at risk for PTSD include war veterans and survivors of physical and sexual assault, abuse, accidents, disasters and many other serious events. But not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous situation. Some people develop PTSD after a family member or friend is harmed. The sudden and unexpected death of a loved one can also bring about PTSD, as can many other situations and experiences.
As for causes, many scientists are currently focusing on genes that play a role in creating fear memories. Researchers have also found a version of a gene that controls levels of serotonin, a brain chemical related to mood that appears to fuel fear response. The theory is that like other mental disorders, it is likely that many genes play a role in PTSD.
Studying the brain areas and finding individual differences may also help researchers understand possible causes of PTSD. Environmental factors, such as childhood trauma, head injury or a history of mental illness, may further increase a person’s risk by affecting the brain’s early growth.
Personality and cognitive factors, such as optimism and a tendency to view challenges in a positive or negative way, and social factors, such as access to and use of social support, seem to influence how people adjust to trauma. More research is needed to uncover what combinations of these or other factors may ultimately predict who will develop PTSD after a traumatic event.
Symptoms of Emotional Trauma/PTSD
PTSD symptoms can be grouped into three categories:
- Re-experiencing symptoms – including flashbacks, reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts
- Avoidance symptoms – staying away from places, events or objects that are reminders of the experience, feeling emotionally numb, feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry, losing interest in activities previously enjoyed, and having trouble remembering the traumatic event
- Hyperarousal symptoms – being easily startled, feeling tense or on edge, having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts
Symptoms usually begin within three months of the traumatic incident, although they may take years to emerge. In order to be diagnosed as PTSD, symptoms must last more than a month. Some people recover within six months, while others continue to have symptoms much longer. The condition becomes chronic in some people.
PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse and other anxiety disorders.
Treatment for Emotional Trauma/PTSD
After a diagnosis of emotional trauma or PTSD, clients at Lucida receive a personalized treatment plan. The main treatments include psychotherapy, medication, or both. It is important to note that what works for one person may not work for another. That’s why people with emotional trauma/PTSD need to be treated by mental health professionals experienced in treating these conditions.
If clients have suffered ongoing trauma, such as being in an abusive relationship, both problems need to be addressed. Other ongoing problems requiring simultaneous treatment include substance abuse, depression, panic disorder and feeling suicidal.
At Lucida, we use a combination of traditional and complementary therapeutic approaches to treat clients with emotional trauma/PTSD. These include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), stress inoculation training, Somatic Experiencing, craniosacral therapy and medication. CBT and stress inoculation are conducted one-on-one and in group sessions. EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and craniosacral therapy are introduced in one-on-one sessions.
CBT helps clients examine and challenge irrational thinking patterns related to unhealthy emotions such as shame. CBT also helps clients reconceptualize the traumatic event.
EMDR assists in the reprocessing of disturbing memories, identifying negative cognitions and replacing them with positive ones. In addition, EMDR uses a body scanning technique to identify any uncomfortable sensations and incorporate positive cognitions to reduce physical and emotional discomfort.
Stress inoculation training is a form of CBT that teaches Lucida clients with emotional trauma/PTSD to manage and reduce anxiety. These techniques include breathing, muscle relaxation and positive self-talk.
Somatic Experiencing helps Lucida clients move on from a painful or traumatic memory and release emotional blockages. Another benefit is increasing clients’ awareness of body sensations to help the nervous system re-regulate, increased resilience, and a deeper connection to self and others.
Craniosacral therapy allows clients a safe way to release unexpressed emotions. The therapy helps balance the performance of the brain and spinal cord, pinpoints the source of obstruction or stress, and promotes the body’s own healing capacity through natural movements. This facilitates the processing of trauma and increases clients’ self-confidence.
Treatment modalities include individual and group therapy. In individual therapy, goals are developed collaboratively and individually. Such goals are usually targeted toward reducing symptoms of emotional trauma/PTSD, learning the best way to live with symptoms and how to cope with other problems associated with emotional trauma/PTSD, reducing feelings of guilt and sadness, and improving relationships and communication with friends and family.
Group therapy sessions help Lucida clients develop coping skills to deal effectively with symptoms and memories and help build relationships with others. Group therapy also helps clients manage intense emotions such as shame, guilt, anger, rage and fear in a social setting, which improves self-confidence and trust.