What We Treat
Trauma and PTSD
What is PTSD
PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder and is the term used for a mental health condition that arises after a traumatic event. This term is commonly used to describe the condition of soldiers who have experienced war, but it’s not limited to just that population group. Studies show that PTSD affects around 3.5% of U.S. adults every year, and approximately one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.
If you suffer from PTSD, you may experience something called flashbacks, where you relive your traumatic experience. These flashbacks can also appear in the form of nightmares. The feelings you get during a flashback or nightmare are intense and similar to the feelings you had when you were actually experiencing the trauma. You may feel intense sadness, fear, anger, or anxiety.
One of the terms associated with trauma is “intrusive thoughts.” This is when a thought or feeling appears suddenly, sometimes because of a trigger, and you cannot get past it. Loud noises, physical touch, or sudden movements could trigger intrusive thoughts and feelings and lead to a flashback of your trauma.
Types of Trauma to Cause PTSD
Trauma comes in many different forms. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be caused by any type of trauma. It’s also important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. Some examples of traumatic events include, but are not limited to:
- Surviving a natural disaster
- Being exposed to community violence
- Being in a serious accident
- Early childhood trauma
- Witnessing a terrorist act
- Intimate partner violence
- Experiencing war or combat
- Being hospitalized or other medical trauma
- Being raped or sexually assaulted
- Physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse
- Being threatened with death, sexual violence, or serious injury
- Grief and loss trauma
- Experiencing bullying
- Witnessing any type of abuse
Symptoms of Trauma & PTSD
Intrusion refers to what was mentioned earlier, intrusive thoughts. These can show up as:
- Sudden, involuntary memories of your trauma
- Nightmares that cause distress
- Flashbacks to your trauma that are so realistic it feels like you are re-living the experience
Over time you may begin to avoid certain people, places, and situations that could trigger those intrusive memories. This is a natural response but can disrupt your relationships and everyday life.
Avoidance also makes it difficult for some people to seek treatment. You might work hard to avoid talking about your trauma for fear of experiencing flashbacks and unpleasant feelings associated with your traumatic memories.
One of the signs that you might have PTSD is changes to your normal thinking and reasoning patterns. Everyone has negative thoughts occasionally, but if you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, your negative thoughts can turn into distorted beliefs about yourself or your surroundings, such as:
- Believing you are a terrible person
- Thinking that no one can be trusted
- Believing that you are in danger when you are actually safe
- Blaming yourself for things that were not your fault
- Ongoing guilt or shame for the traumatic event
Behavior and Mood Swings
Those distorted beliefs will start to impact your feelings and behaviors over time as well. Some of the emotional and behavioral changes that occur with PTSD are:
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling irritable
- Reckless or impulsive behavior
- Engaging in self-destructive actions
- Acting paranoid or overly suspicious
- Being easily startled
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
- Substance abuse
To be diagnosed with PTSD, it’s not enough to experience these symptoms directly after a traumatic event. Symptoms must be present for months or years later. Often, treatment for PTSD also involves treatment for depression, anxiety, or substance misuse, since these conditions are often found to occur simultaneously.
Treatment for Trauma and PTSD
Fortunately, post-traumatic stress disorder treatment does exist. Trauma treatment will vary from person to person and should fit your specific needs. PTSD treatment is very effective when given in an Irvine residential mental health treatment center. Residential or inpatient treatment means that you will receive 24-hour care from professional staff and reside in the facility during your treatment program.
The advantages of residential treatment are:
- Supportive and comforting environment
- Around-the-clock access to medical and mental health professionals
- Focused treatment plan without distractions from everyday life
- Peer support from others on a similar journey
- Inpatient programs usually include various therapeutic interventions and sometimes medication when necessary
The most common type of therapy used to treat PTSD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT involves identifying patterns of thinking and false beliefs to change behaviors. There are a few different approaches used in CBT that help specifically with the symptoms of PTSD.
- Cognitive processing therapy helps you change negative feelings and beliefs that are tied to your trauma, such as “it’s all my fault” or “I am not safe.”
- Prolonged exposure therapy is a technique where you will imagine in detail your trauma to trigger symptoms in the safe environment of therapy. This helps you face your fears and symptoms in a controlled environment and learn coping skills to help you get past them.
- Stress inoculation therapy is where you will be exposed to lower levels of stress and practice coping skills in therapy to learn how to defend against higher levels of stress caused by PTSD.
- Group therapy provides an environment where you hear stories from other people who have experienced similar traumatic events. This helps reduce feelings of isolation and allows you to hear what has helped others in your same condition.
Family therapy is useful when your PTSD has caused distress in family relationships.
Along with therapy, medication is sometimes used to help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some of the common medications used to treat PTSD are antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs work to raise the levels of serotonin in your brain, which helps to regulate mood, appetite, and sleep.
Other medications may be given to counteract anxiety. Sleeping medications can help if you suffer from sleep problems or nightmares.
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