Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the result of a physical, psychological or emotional trauma. It was originally identified as a cluster of symptoms displayed by veterans returning from war. In recent years we have come to realize that PTSD can also result from other traumatic life events such as sexual assault and child abuse.

Regardless of the cause of PTSD, it is characterized by extreme fear and anxiety. The sufferer may have flashbacks and nightmares and seek to avoid places associated with the trauma. Sometimes the disorder shows as anger or violent lashing out at family members or friends. It is not unusual for trauma survivors to turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings, and some may attempt suicide.

Unfortunately, many people who suffer from PTSD do not seek treatment on their own. War veterans may think it shows weakness, and sexual assault survivors may believe they just need to “get over it.” Adults who suffered severe emotional or physical abuse as children may fear that it is too late to seek help. If trauma survivors can be encouraged to seek treatment they will find that psychotherapy is very effective and can produce deep positive changes for them.

The goal of therapy is to unwrap the person’s experiences and identify the feelings associated with them. It is crucial to help the person find ways to feel safe, to combat the sometimes paralyzing fear that results from trauma. They can be taught specific skills to manage anger and other behavioral changes. Sometimes it is also helpful to add medication to the treatment regimen to obtain the best results.

It is not unusual for trauma survivors to find a new sense of control and power over their lives as a result of therapy. The skills they learn allow them to not only conquer PTSD but also more successfully navigate any future life disruptions.

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