Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Other Common Reactions to Trauma

 

When someone experiences a trauma, there can be a wide range of long-lasting effects and changes that make it difficult to recover from the experience. Trauma can make you feel like you are broken, that you aren’t like other people, or that you will never be the same person you were - or that you would have been. It can completely change how you see yourself, other people, relationships, and the world in general. Emotions can feel out of control, and you may find yourself acting differently than others do or than you did in the past. This can make it difficult to succeed in school, work, and relationships with other people, and it can also lead to all kinds of self-destructive or problematic behaviors. Some of the most common reasons people seek treatment after experiencing trauma include:

 

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Anger, irritability, and becoming easily frustrated

  • Guilt or self-blame

  • Negative thoughts or beliefs about yourself, others, and the world

  • Difficulty trusting other people

  • Relationship problems

  • Frequent unwanted thoughts and memories

  • Flashbacks

  • Bad dreams or nightmares

  • Upsetting or distressing feelings when reminded of the experience

  • Avoidance of thoughts and memories of the experience

  • Avoidance of things that might remind you of the experience

  • Decreased positive emotions

  • Decreased interest in activities

  • Feeling constantly vigilant or on edge

  • Being easily startled or frightened

  • Panic attacks

  • Substance use problems

  • Difficulty with sex or unwanted/unhealthy approaches to sex

  • Insomnia

 

While some people recover naturally from these symptoms over time, others become “stuck” in their recovery and treatment is necessary. The good news is that there are highly effective treatments for people who have experienced trauma.

 

Treatment

 

The most effective forms of treatment for PTSD and associated issues are particular types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE).

 

In CPT, you will work together with your therapist to address the impact of the traumatic experience on how you think about and see yourself, other people, and the world in general. One significant way in which trauma affects people is by causing extreme, unhelpful, and often inaccurate ways of thinking about certain areas of life - for example, safety, trust, control, self-esteem, and intimacy. These ways of thinking can maintain the emotional effects of the trauma such as depression, anxiety, and guilt, as well as practical or behavioral consequences like avoidance and relationship problems. Thus, this type of therapy focuses on identifying specific thoughts or beliefs that have been impacted by the trauma, developing tools for evaluating whether these thoughts are accurate, and learning how to replace them when necessary with more helpful and balanced beliefs. Most people find that as they gain increased awareness and skills to address the thoughts that keep them stuck in these patterns, they develop increased control over their emotions and behaviors as well as a greater ability to move forward in their lives.

 

In PE, you will work together with your therapist to process the memories of the trauma as well as confront the the situations that trigger distress, discomfort, and intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of the trauma. By learning how to break the pattern of avoidance that can be so limiting and paralyzing, you can build a level of comfort and feeling safe in situations and relationships that previously seemed too dangerous or were too frightening to face. Through this process the memories of the trauma also lose much of their power, coming to mind less frequently and causing less intense distress when they do arise. As this process continues, most people find that the trauma has less of a hold on them and feel more free to move forward in their lives.

 

Many people who are coping with a trauma are skeptical or unwilling to try therapy because nothing will change the fact that the trauma happened - and that is true, we can’t go back in time and undo what has already occurred. In CPT and PE, our goal is to help you figure out what has gotten you stuck in recovering from the trauma, teach you more effective ways to process and cope with it, and ultimately allow you to build a more satisfying life - even with the trauma that you’ve experienced.

 

For help with trauma and PTSD, please contact us.