Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to a psychological reaction to an extremely stressful event. Although the two terms are commonly used interchangeably, there are some differences.

What Is Trauma and PTSD?

Trauma refers to a distressing event in which an individual feels emotionally, physically, or psychologically threatened. At some point in life, most people will experience some type of traumatic event. This could be neglect, abuse, a vehicle accident, a violent criminal act, natural disaster, exposure to the violence of war, or the sudden death of a loved one. Many people will recover from the trauma they experience with the support of family and friends over time. For other people; however, the effects of trauma can be long-lasting and result in the person experiencing deep emotional pain, confusion, and fear long after the event has taken place

How likely someone is to develop PTSD depends on a variety of factors, including the intensity of the trauma, how close the person was to the event, the strength of their reaction, how much in control of the events the person felt, and how much support and help the person received after the event.

Post Traumatic Stress refers to the psychological reaction to an event that is severely physically threatening and/or stressful. This reaction results in flashbacks, anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, mental health concerns, and possibly suicidal thoughts for an extended period of time. Individuals with PTSD may continue to experience anxiety or fear even when there is no real danger present. For someone with PTSD, he or she may believe that their life or the lives of someone else are in danger.

Signs and Symptoms of Trauma and PTSD

After someone has gone through a traumatic event, he or she may experience the following symptoms:

  • Feeling upset by anything that reminds you of the event
  • Experiencing vivid memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
  • Avoiding things or places that remind you of what happened
  • Losing interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling as though you are always in danger
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling irritated, jittery, or anxious

The symptoms of trauma and PTSD can alter a person’s behavior and even how he or she lives life. The person may begin pulling away from other people or may begin using alcohol or drugs as a way of coping. Someone struggling with trauma or PTSD may find it difficult to be in a relationship and may experience problems with family members.

People trying to cope with trauma or PTSD may exhibit symptoms of depression, may have panic attacks, and fear that something bad is about to happen.

Children can also suffer from trauma and PTSD; however, the symptoms in a child may differ from symptoms in an adult. For instance, a child may become fearful if their parents are not close by. Children may experience difficult sleeping or have trouble with toileting. Young children may act out the trauma they experienced through drawings, play, or stories.

Causes of Trauma and PTSD

Anyone who has undergone a traumatic or life-threatening event may experience problems with trauma or PTSD. Such events may include:

  • Terrorist attack
  • Combat
  • Sexual violence or trauma
  • Serious accident
  • Natural disaster
  • Physical violence

Following the event, the person may find they think about what happened frequently and avoid any reminders of the event.

Treatment for Trauma and PTSD: Working with a Counselor or Therapist

Psychotherapy is considered the most effective form of treatment for trauma or PTSD. Therapy and counseling can help individuals who have been diagnosed with PTSD or who have experienced trauma make sense of their feelings and experiences while developing healthy coping skills.

An experienced therapist can assist someone heal from trauma even long after the event took place. In fact, unresolved trauma is one of the most common reasons that many people seek out therapy or counseling.

PTSD treatment can help individuals regain control over their life. Psychotherapy can be used to help individuals improve their symptoms by learning skills to address their symptoms and learn how to think better about themselves and the world, in general. One key component involved in PTSD treatment is the teaching of self-regulation and relaxation skills.

Several forms of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, may be used for treating both adults and children struggling with trauma or PTSD. Forms of psychotherapy that may be used in the treatment of PTSD include:

Cognitive Therapy-In this form of therapy, the individual learns how to identify ways of thinking that may keep them stuck in the fear that the event will happen again. Cognitive therapy may be used in conjunction with exposure therapy for the treatment of PTSD.

Exposure Therapy-This form of behavioral therapy can assist someone struggling with trauma or PTSD in safely facing memories or situations that can be frightening to learn how to cope with those situations effectively. Exposure therapy may be especially beneficial for treating nightmares and flashbacks. Virtual reality programs are now being used to help patients re-enter the environments in which trauma was experienced.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing-EMDR offers a combination of exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movements. The goal of this form of therapy is to help the individual process traumatic memories while changing the way in which he or she responds to those memories.

All of these forms of therapy are designed to help the person learn how to gain control of the fear that often persists following a traumatic event. In approaching therapy, the patient and therapist will discuss the form of therapy or perhaps even a combination of therapies that may best fit the patient’s needs. Therapy may be provided on an individual basis, in a group setting, or even both. Group therapy can provide a way to make connections with other people who are struggling with similar experiences.

A therapist experienced in treating trauma and PTSD can help the individual develop stress management skills so that he or she is better able to cope with stress and stressful situations.

If you think that you or someone close to you may be struggling with the effects of trauma or PTSD, it’s important to seek help from an experienced therapist as quickly as possible.

If you find you relate to the information in this article and would like some help, please contact Rita with Sioux Falls Wellness Counseling at (605) 610-9228.