Are you wondering if what you are feeling is really post traumatic stress disorder? Are you unsure on what type of help is available for someone who is experiencing post traumatic stress disorder? To help understand the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and how you can overcome post traumatic stress disorder, I have interviewed therapist Missy Dixon.
Tell me about yourself:
“I am a therapist in private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have an M.S. in Professional Counseling from the University of Utah, and I will complete my Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at the University of Utah with a specialization in gender psychology in the spring of 2011. I specialize in working with adults and teens that have anxiety, depression, PTSD, and those who have experienced trauma and abuse.”
What are the causes of PTSD?
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop due to exposure to an event resulting in psychological trauma. Essentially, any trauma, defined as an experience or event that is life threatening, emotionally painful, distressful, fear inducing, or shocking, that is experienced by an individual may cause PTSD. Trauma may describe the effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes, exposure to disasters such as a plane crashes, fires, or terrorist attacks, witnessing or experiencing a severe accident, a physical injury, a murder, or an unexpected death, receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis, being the victim of kidnapping, torture, rape, mugging, robbery, or assault, exposure to combat, enduring physical, sexual, emotional, or other forms of abuse, and other catastrophic events and situations. Further, devastating life events such as divorce or unemployment may contribute to the development of PTSD in some individuals. Repeated, prolonged, and extensive exposure to traumatic events may contribute to a form of PTSD known as complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), which is characterized by long-lasting problems specific to emotional and social functioning. C-PTSD is not formally recognized in the DSM IV (text revised).”
What are some signs and symptoms of PTSD?
They include: 1) recurrent re-experiencing of the trauma (i.e., flashbacks, recurring nightmares, and/or dissociative reliving of the trauma), 2) persistent avoidance of places, people, and experiences that remind the sufferer of the trauma and a general numbing of emotional responsiveness, and 3) chronic physical signs of hyperarousal (i.e., difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability, problems with anger, problems with concentration, blackouts or difficulty remembering things, elevated startle response, and hypervigilance to threat). Symptoms must be present for at least one month and cause clinically significant distress or impairment socially and/or occupationally, or in other important areas of life function. Symptoms of C-PTSD include problems regulating emotions, dissociation or depersonalization, persistent feelings of depression, disempowerment as a result of seeing the perpetrator as all-powerful, preoccupation with the perpetrator, and drastic change in what the sufferer finds meaningful.”
How does PTSD impact someone’s life?
“PTSD can deeply impact one’s life specific to their emotional and physical well-being. It can result in decreased self-worth, decreased self-efficacy, memory problems, relationship problems, physical health problems, anxiety, depression, and familial problems. For example, a woman who suffers from PTSD after being sexually assaulted may not want to be physically intimate or touchy with her partner, which might lead to emotional distancing. This physical and emotional distancing could lead to further depressive feelings and decreased self-worth, which might contribute to relationship problems and/or the worsening of physical symptoms that contribute to health problems.”
How can you overcome PTSD?
“Overcoming PTSD is possible and there are various forms of treatment available. The usual treatments include psychological and medical interventions. Psychotherapy, a common treatment for PTSD, includes providing information about PTSD, talking about the trauma directly, teaching the person ways to manage their PTSD symptoms, and exploring and modifying their thought patterns specific to their trauma experience. PTSD education involves teaching the individual about PTSD: defining it, its causes, and those who suffer from it, as well as what to expect in treatment. Educating the person about PTSD helps to decrease inaccurate ideas that the person may have about the illness and help to decrease shame that they may be feeling. Teaching PTSD sufferers practical coping strategies to deal with their intense and disturbing symptoms helps to manage anger and anxiety, improve communication skills, and gain a sense of mastery over their emotional and physical symptoms.”
“Individual and group therapy can help people with PTSD identify and adjust their thoughts and feelings specific to their traumatic experience(s) by educating sufferers about the relationships between thoughts and feelings, exploring common thought patterns of traumatized persons, developing alternative thought patterns and interpretations of the negative events, and by practicing alternative coping strategies in real and imagined situations. Providing relaxation training and techniques for handling stress is another way to treat PTSD. Once the person has been trained to utilize relaxation strategies they can pair them with exposure to the trauma by talking about it. Pairing relaxation with exposure to trauma helps desensitize the trauma experience for the individual.”
“Family and couple’s counseling may be beneficial for families of PTSD individuals, as well as the sufferer. Parenting classes and conflict resolution education is also available to families of those who have PTSD. Sometimes, family members and significant others provide relevant history about their loved one (e.g., information about emotions and behaviors, substance use, sleeping habits, and socialization) that the person with the illness does not share.”
“Alleviating sleep problems associated with PTSD is one important way to help decrease the symptoms of PTSD. Certain medications are available to help treat PTSD. They include serotonergic antidepressants (SSRIs) and medicines that help decrease the physical symptoms associated with illness. Mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications are other potentially helpful medications for managing PTSD.”
“Coping strategies often suggested for PTSD patients include learning more about the illness, talking to others for support, using relaxation techniques, participating in treatment, increasing positive lifestyle practices (e.g., exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, continue to work, etc.), and minimizing negative lifestyle practices (e.g., alcohol and drug use, risky behavior or self-destructive/suicidal behaviors, social isolation, etc.).”
What type of professional help is available for sufferers of PTSD?
“Professional help in the form of psychological counseling or therapy, medication, support groups, and crisis lines are available to help sufferers of PTSD. The following are a few suggestions.”
Air Force Palace HART
American Love and Appreciation Fund (for veterans)
Army Wounded Warrior Program
Phone: 1-800-237-1336 or 1-800-833-6622
DHSD Deployment Helpline
Marine for Life
Military One Source
Military Severely Injured Center
National Coalition Against Sexual Assault
National Alliance for Mentally Ill
National Mental Health Association
Navy Safe Harbor
Operation Comfort (for veterans and their families)
Phone: 1-866-632-7868 (1-866-NEAR TO U)
PTSD Information Hotline
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
A workbook I would also recommended is by Williams, M. B., & Poijula, S. (2002). The PTSD workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Thank you Missy for doing the interview on how to overcome post traumatic stress disorder. For more information on missy Dixon or her work you can check out her website on www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com.
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