Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder associated with intense physiological, emotional, and cognitive reactions to a traumatic event or experience. A wide variety of experiences are capable of causing trauma; examples often include sexual assault, wartime experiences, motor vehicle accidents, and physical abuse. An individual does not have to experience the event themselves to develop PTSD, and the severity of symptoms is not necessarily correlated with the severity of the event. A person’s perception of an event as being traumatic is instead related to genetic predispositions and environmental factors.
Symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories:
- Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts such as repetitive, involuntary flashbacks or memories of the traumatic event
- Avoidance: Avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that may trigger distressing memories of the traumatic event.
- Changes in cognition and mood: Ongoing distorted beliefs and feelings about oneself or others; blaming the traumatic event on oneself; persistent feelings of fear, anxiety, horror, anger, guilt or shame; feelings of detachment or estrangement from others; inability to experience positive emotions
- Changes in reactivity: Irritability and angry outbursts; reckless and/or self-destructive behavior; hyper-vigilance; heightened reactions and startled responses; trouble concentrating or sleeping
There are several types of treatment options for individuals suffering from PTSD. Because trauma affects people differently, it’s important to be treated by a clinician who is highly experienced in PTSD to determine the most effective treatment option.
Psychotherapy is an important treatment intervention for PTSD and is designed to help the individual process the traumatic experience and interpretation of memories in a safe environment.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one type of psychotherapy that utilizes bilateral sensory input – such as side-to-side eye movements – to help individuals process difficult memories, thoughts, and emotions related to trauma.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to identify distortions or unhelpful patterns in thoughts and feelings related to the trauma. The goal of CBT is to help you return to a place where you regain hope, feel a greater sense of control in your thoughts and behaviors, as well as help you to reduce escape or avoidance behaviors.
Neurofeedback training has also proven to be highly effective in treating individuals with PTSD; the United States military considers neurofeedback a profoundly helpful treatment option for veterans who develop PTSD after service in active combat zones. It works by targeting areas of the brain associated with excessive fear response, hyper-arousal, and emotional memory processes to alleviate symptoms such as insomnia, anger, fatigue and difficulties with concentration.