Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious and enduring psychological condition caused by exposure to a life-threatening event. A person doesn’t have to experience the trauma directly; it’s possible to develop PTSD by witnessing a shocking event alone. Examples of situations that cause PTSD include combat, assault, surviving a natural disaster or violent crime, rape, abuse or the sudden death of a loved one. Events that cause PTSD tend to be terrifying, violent or both. PTSD results in a person suffering greatly elevated anxiety, emotional numbness, inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia), disturbed sleep, re-experiencing the event through nightmares and flashbacks, and avoidance of people and situations that are reminders, even tangentially, of the trauma.
In comparison to PTSD, most people experience Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). After a frightening event, a person’s heart may race, their knees will be shaky, and intrusive images and flashes of the event may linger for a few days. PTS passes rapidly, lasting from a few hours to several days. PTS happens during the disturbing event or immediately after and lessens as time passes. PTSD may not show up for weeks or months after the traumatic event. It doesn’t get better as time goes on, either. The same event that occasions PTS in one person may in fact cause PTSD in another.
Although any of the following may cause PTSD, not everyone who experiences one of these traumas will develop PTSD. PTSD results from a complex interaction between one’s brain chemistry, temperament and approach to stress. People who already have depression or anxiety are also more prone to developing PTSD.
Many treatment approaches to PTSD follow a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) framework. CBT is a short-term therapy carried out in about 12 to 16 sessions. CBT is rooted in the idea that a person’s thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs about events affect them even more powerfully than the events themselves. By identifying a client’s automatic thought processes that are sabotaging their progress, therapists help clients to change those harmful thoughts. CBT is considered goal-oriented. It is not meant to provide deep insight; rather, it seeks to alleviate the suffering caused by PTSD and eliminate symptoms.
Family therapy or couples therapy is always a good idea. People who endure PTSD often do so silently, or in ways that end up alienating friends and family members. In family systems, people struggle with old secrets and toxic relationships that exacerbate PTSD. Therapy for the entire family helps to resolve this.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has many causes and lots of terrible symptoms, but the worst might be the loss of hope and the blanket of bleakness about the future that it brings. Sufferers of PTSD have negative, cynical outlooks on their future and on the possibility of ever getting better. It’s that grim feeling of being fated to suffer that kills many PTSD survivors. Getting professional help leads to a better, far more satisfying life.