Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) is a common reaction to very stressful or traumatic events. Many different kinds of events can lead to PTSD, including car accidents, rape, being the victim of a crime, physical or sexual abuse, disasters such as floods or bombings, or seeing someone else die.
People with PTSD have three main problems or symptoms:
- Re-living the trauma. This can include memories that you can’t control, nightmares, and flashbacks that make you feel as if you are living the event all over again. Often memories happen when something you see or hear reminds you of the event.
- Avoiding. Because it is upsetting to remember what happened, people with PTSD try not to think about it. They also stay away from people, places or things that bring back memories. Often they feel numb or detached from people. Some turn to alcohol or drugs to dull the pain.
- Signs of physical stress. These can include trouble sleeping, feeling irritable or angry all the time, trouble concentrating, and feeling tense or on guard.
What causes PTSD?
When people live through a trauma, the memories of what happened get connected in their mind with what they saw, heard, smelled or felt at the time. Later a similar sight, sound, smell or other feeling can bring the memories and emotions flooding back. A second reason the memories come back is that people have a need to make sense of what happened. Traumatic events often make people question things they once believed — for example, that the world is basically safe or that bad things won’t happen to them. To understand the trauma, they have to think about it. But thinking about it brings the memories and feelings back. So they try to not think about it. Instead of finding understanding and peace, people often end up going back and forth between remembering and trying to forget.
How does PTSD develop?
Most people begin to have symptoms of PTSD shortly after the trauma. For about half of these people, the symptoms get better on their own within three months. For others the symptoms can last for years. Some people don’t start to have symptoms until many years after the event.
How does cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD help?
There are three steps to recovering from PTSD. First, your therapist will teach you ways to cope with the feelings and tension that come with the memories. These include ways to relax your body and to take your mind off the pain.
Second, your therapist will help you face the memories. He or she will guide you in retelling the story of what happened. The more you do this, the less upsetting the memories will become and the more you will be able to find a sense of peace.
Finally, your therapist will teach you ways to change negative thinking and handle problems in your life.
A number of studies have found that cognitive-behavioral therapy helps people with PTSD feel better. These studies have included combat veterans as well as victims of rape, assault, and other traumas.
How long is therapy for PTSD?
How long treatment lasts depends on how many traumas you suffered and how severe they were, how bad your symptoms are now, and how many other problems you are having in your life. For people who have been through a single traumatic event, 12 to 20 sessions are usually enough. Most of these sessions will be 45 to 50 minutes long, but a few may be as long as 90 minutes.
Can medication help with PTSD symptoms?
Drugs by themselves are usually not enough for treating PTSD. However, they can be helpful for some people when combined with therapy. Your physician or a psychiatrist can suggest which medication might be best for you.
What do I need to do?
It is best not to start treatment for PTSD if you are currently abusing drugs or alcohol or have a major crises in your life. Your therapist can help you deal with these problems first, and then begin working on your PTSD symptoms. Other than that, all you need to do is to be willing to try therapy and to spend some time each week practicing the things you learn.
Anxiety Free: Unravel Your Fears Before They Unravel You by Robert L. Leahy
The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You by Robert L. Leahy
Clinicians may find the following books on cognitive behavioral therapy to be helpful in treating anxiety:
Leahy, R. L., Holland, S. J., & McGinn, L. K. – Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders (2nd ed.)
Leahy, R. L. – Cognitive Therapy Techniques
Sookman, D. and Leahy, R. L. – Treatment Resistant Anxiety Disorders: Resolving Impasses to Symptom Remission
Sample Chapters from Guilford Press
- Assessing Psychological Trauma and PTSD, Second Edition Edited by John P. Wilson and Terence M. Keane
- Clinical Work with Traumatized Young Children Edited by Joy D. Osofsky
- Clinician’s Guide to PTSD: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach by Steven Taylor
- Cognitive-Behavioral Conjoint Therapy for PTSD Harnessing the Healing Power of Relationships by Candice M. Monson and Steffany J. Fredman
- Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies in Crisis Intervention, Third Edition Edited by Frank M. Dattilio and Arthur Freeman
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies for Trauma, Second Edition Edited by Victoria M. Follette and Josef I. Ruzek
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for PTSD: A Case Formulation Approach by Claudia Zayfert and Carolyn Black Becker
- Collaborative Treatment of Traumatized Children and Teens: The Trauma Systems Therapy Approach by Glenn N. Saxe, B. Heidi Ellis, and Julie B. Kaplow
- Early Intervention for Trauma and Traumatic Loss Edited by Brett T. Litz
- Effective Treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Second Ed. Edited by Edna B. Foa, Terence M. Keane, Matthew J. Friedman, and Judith A. Cohen
- Gender and PTSD Edited by Rachel Kimerling, Paige Ouimette, and Jessica Wolfe
- Handbook of PTSD: Science and Practice Edited by Matthew J. Friedman, Terence M. Keane, and Patricia A. Resick
- Helping Abused and Traumatized Children: Integrating Directive and Nondirective Approaches by Eliana Gil
- Life After Trauma: A Workbook for Healing, Second Edition by Dena Rosenbloom and Mary Beth Williams with Barbara E. Watkins
- Psychotherapy with Infants and Young Children: Repairing the Effects of Stress and Trauma on Early Attachment by Alicia F. Lieberman and Patricia Van Horn
- Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders: An Evidence-Based Guide Edited by Christine A. Courtois and Julian D. Ford
- Treating PTSD in Military Personnel: A Clinical Handbook Edited by Bret A. Moore and Walter E. Penk
- Treating Psychological Trauma and PTSD Edited by John P. Wilson, Matthew J. Friedman, and Jacob D. Lindy
- Treating Survivors of Childhood Abuse: Psychotherapy for the Interrupted Life by Marylene Cloitre, Lisa R. Cohen, and Karestan C. Koenen
- Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents by Judith A. Cohen, Anthony P. Mannarino, and Esther Deblinger.
- When Someone You Love Suffers from Posttraumatic Stress: What to Expect and What You Can Do by Claudia Zayfert and Jason C. DeViva
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