Frequently Asked Questions About PTSD
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event that involves an actual or perceived threat to life or physical integrity. People with PTSD have three major types of symptoms, which typically relate to:
1. Re-experience of the trauma
- Flashbacks — the trauma is relived over and over and includes physical symptoms, such as elevated heart rate and perspiration
- Frightening thoughts
- Intense distress when some cue arouses a memory of the trauma
2. Avoidance of trauma reminders
- Staying away from places, events or objects that are reminders of the trauma
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma
- Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
3. Symptoms of increased arousal
- Being easily startled
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling tense or “on edge”
How Common is PTSD?
Traumatic events occur quite frequently with up to 60% of the U.S. population exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. A large percentage of people experience PTSD immediately after exposure to a trauma. Most recover from these symptoms within three months. Approximately 15 % of individuals exposed to trauma develop a more chronic PTSD . The traumatic events most associated with PTSD for men are combat exposure, childhood neglect and childhood physical abuse. The most traumatic events for women are rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon and childhood physical abuse.
Why Do Some Individuals Naturally Recover after Surviving a Trauma, While Others Develop Chronic PTSD?
We now understand that natural recovery from trauma results from emotional processing that occurs in the course of daily life. Emotional processing occurs when the trauma survivor does not try to suppress memories of the trauma, but rather actively engages with trauma-related thoughts and feelings and shares them with others. A second key component in recovery involves not avoiding situations that serve as reminders of the trauma. If the person can confront these situations and not have additional traumas, he/she is able to disconfirm the common post-trauma perception that the world is a dangerous place and that he/she is destined to forever feel vulnerable.
Chronic PTSD, on the other hand, is more likely when the individual is not able to adequately process the traumatic memory because of extensive avoidance of trauma reminders.
How is PTSD Treated?
The core of the treatment for PTSD is exposure therapy. In a controlled and safe manner, the therapist helps the individual emotionally process the trauma by facing and working through the memories of the trauma and the situations associated with these memories. This is a powerful way for the individual to learn that the memories of the trauma and the situations associated with those memories are not the same as the trauma itself. Clients learn they can safely remember the trauma and experience the trauma reminders, thereby reclaiming their lives from PTSD.