Frequently asked questions about trauma and PTSD:
- What is PTSD?
- What are the symptoms of PTSD?
- What is the difference between simple and complex PTSD?
- What are effective treatments for PTSD?
- How can I get help for PTSD?
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, a misnomer because it’s not really a disorder; PTSD is a normal reaction to abnormal events. When you are faced with a life-threatening situation, your self-protection system kicks in automatically. This system works extremely well to keep you safe in such situations and, typically, shuts off of its own accord when you’re safe again. PTSD develops when you continue to feel unsafe long after the trauma and the protection system keeps you behaving as if you’re in danger.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
The major symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, depression, and addiction. More specifically, these may include:
- Intrusive (unwanted) memories, distressing dreams, flashbacks
- Mental or physical discomfort around people or situations that remind you of the traumatic experience
- Avoidance of people or situations that remind you of the traumatic experience
- Trouble remembering parts of the experience
- Negative self-image, inappropriate blame of self and others
- Feeling down, angry, ashamed or fearful most of the time
- Decreased participation in activities in which you used to participate
- Feeling detached or estranged from people in your life
- Unable to experience positive emotions, such as happiness and love
- Frequent anger or aggression
- Hypervigilance (constantly on edge or keyed up)
- Being easily startled
- Having trouble concentrating
- Sleep difficulties
Note: if you experience a few of these, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have PTSD! Assessment by a trained professional is recommended to make that determination.
What is the difference between simple and complex PTSD?
Simple PTSD results from a single traumatic incident; complex PTSD results from ongoing trauma, for example, childhood abuse, or from multiple traumas when the initial one wasn’t resolved.
We experience a trauma with our whole selves – cognitively, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When we aren’t able to return to feeling safe after a traumatic experience, these aspects of the trauma get stuck; they’re too big to be digested. When dealt with appropriately at the time or treated afterward, the trauma is processed, the pieces of it digested, and we go back to feeling and behaving like our normal selves.
However, when the initial trauma isn’t resolved, the cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual pieces of it get “stuck.” We can understand this by imagining ourselves as bathtubs. These pieces of the traumatic experience clog the drain. If the drain is clogged when another a traumatic event occurs, it can’t be processed. This is why two combat veterans who experience the same traumatic event on the battlefield may have very different reactions: one may develop PTSD and the other may not. Research has shown that those who develop PTSD often have earlier unresolved traumatic experiences.
What are effective treatments for PTSD?
A number of treatment modalities have been used to treat PTSD, including brainspotting and trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy. However, EMDR is one of the most researched – and effective – treatments for PTSD. Among other endorsements, the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense have endorsed EMDR as a recommended treatment for PTSD.
How can I get help for PTSD?
The first step in getting treatment is to be assessed for PTSD by a qualified therapist. Once a diagnosis of PTSD has been confirmed, you and your therapist can discuss treatment options . Even if you don’t meet all the criteria for PTSD, your therapist can suggest treatments that can help if you are experiencing symptoms that prevent you from living fully.
Want to learn more about trauma and PTSD? Contact Alexandria Hayes at alex [at] lab-inst [dot] com.