What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a reaction to psychological trauma which develops in response to actual or threatened extreme danger or personal injury. Examples include wartime experiences, natural disasters, sexual assault, bodily injury, incest, or even psychotic episodes (including placement in psychiatric hospitals). Torture almost always results in PTSD. Symptoms include nightmares, dissociative states, vivid flashback memories of the traumatic event, loss of control, emotional detachment (psychic numbing), hyper-arousal, and survivor guilt.

Typically, symptoms of PTSD consist of recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma, avoidance behaviors or phobias, and chronic physical signs related to hyper-arousal. These physical signs include insomnia, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, memory problems, and fatigue. PTSD may be associated with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, or personality disturbances. During wartime, PTSD was referred to as “shell-shock” or battle fatigue. In the press, PTSD has become strongly associated with survivors of military trauma. In the current era of war, more and more soldiers are surviving bodily injuries – most of them develop PTSD. Interestingly, persons who have had disaster training or medical training who experience traumatic events have a lower risk of developing PTSD. This protective effect can sometimes be replicated with administration of antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications or beta-blockers.

What are symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

People with PTSD repeatedly re-experience their trauma through memories and thoughts of the experience. They often suffer from flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares. The anxiety associated with the traumatic event can provoke avoidant or isolating behaviors. Persons with PTSD can have feelings of detachment from family and friends, isolation, and loss of social interactions. Severe dissociative symptoms include depersonalization, psychic numbing, or amnesia. Increased arousal can manifest as emotional liability, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to sensory stimuli (startle response), and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and gastrointestinal problems.

How is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is based on three categories of symptoms: recurrent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, avoidant behavior, and signs of hyper-arousal. These symptoms and signs should be assessed by a mental health professional. For example, a history of exposure to a traumatic event with a response that involves intense fear, helplessness or horror is pathognomonic for PTSD. Persons with trauma will report recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. PTSD is further characterized as immediate onset versus delayed onset. The PTSD assessment also includes an evaluation of symptoms and behaviors that have interfered with the Client’s everyday living, including negative effects on family, friends, work or school. Drug or alcohol abuse and self-medication are also common and can interfere with treatment.

What is the Prognosis for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The prognosis for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder varies widely, depending on the severity of trauma exposure, duration and severity of symptoms, and co-existing psychological problems or substance or medication abuse. While PTSD can be managed with psychological treatment and medication, it requires perseverance, dedication and commitment. Symptoms of PTSD may be extremely distressing and persons with PTSD may be predisposed to other conditions including anxiety disorders, depression or substance abuse, which complicates treatment and adversely affects the overall prognosis.

Persons with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may isolate themselves and refuse treatment. Substance abuse (especially alcohol, marijuana or cocaine) or self-medication and co-occurring psychological problems may also be prevalent among persons with trauma. Concurrent substance abuse dramatically interferes with effective psychological and medical treatment.

How does PCH Treatment Center treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

When a person has severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder they require significant psychological support. PCH Treatment Center has extensive experience with PTSD and psychological trauma. Our clinical staff of masters and doctoral level therapists have a deep understanding of psychological trauma and PTSD and the devastating effects it can have on a person’s well-being. When a Client is admitted to PCH Treatment Center, a doctoral level psychologist performs a thorough initial evaluation. Individual psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are available to all clients. Clients with trauma also participate in Somatic Experiencing or sensorimotor therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which have been specifically shown to effectively treat PTSD. Additionally, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), mentalization, mindfulness-based stress reduction, anger management, sleep management, psycho-education, and neurofeedback are incorporated into the treatment schedule. Holistic therapies including yoga, mindfulness meditation, acupuncture and massage therapy also promote healing and recovery. Optional family therapy groups are available, which incorporate family members or significant others into the Client’s treatment environment (when appropriate).

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