Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, shell shock, or battle-fatigue syndrome, call it what you may, but the essence remains the same. The disorientation, the pain, and the recollection of the traumatic event or series of incidents, such as sexual assault and its aftermath, are potent enough to give anyone sleepless nights and take away their ability to lead a normal, happy, and healthy life.
Some trauma survivors recuperate and return to their everyday lives. However, those with PTSD often experience exacerbated and intensifying feelings of shock, anger, fear, nervousness, anxiety, and sometimes even guilt; overall, not a pleasant state of existing in! Those with this disorder have symptoms that last longer than a month, which can interfere substantially with their ability to hold a job, earn a living, and exist peacefully, as before the traumatic event quite literally upset the apple cart.
In the following text, we will discuss the therapies and treatments available for managing the symptoms of PTSD and slowly reclaiming power over one’s own life after suffering a traumatic event or series of it.
A Quick Overview
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition that develops after a person witnesses or undergoes a traumatic event or a series of unsettling circumstances. An individual may face recurrent nightmares, trouble sleeping, uncontrollable thoughts about the event, severe anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
Events such as natural disasters, bullying, war/combat, sexual assault/rape, violence by an intimate partner, terrorist incidents, or being involved in an accident can trigger immense upheaval and negatively affect a person’s emotional, spiritual, mental, social, and physical well-being.
PTSD does not discriminate based on a person’s age, culture, ethnicity, or religion; however, as per a study published by the National Institute of Health, women are more susceptible to developing it than men. People with the disorder exhibit sadness, guilt, increased arousal, may feel jittery, and can get disturbed by a loud noise or an accidental touch.
Now that we are familiar with the ills associated with the disorder, let’s discuss the different modes of therapies and medical treatments to overcome and manage this condition.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavior therapies, a psychotherapy category, have proven highly effective in treating PTSD. Let’s delve into some of these:
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy: This uses repeated progressive exposure or detailed imagining of the trauma in a safe and controlled manner to help the person cope with stressors and develop control of the fear and distress associated with them.
- Cognitive Processing Therapy: An evidence-based form of cognitive behavioral therapy, it is tailored to re-engineer comorbid symptoms and feelings of failure associated with PTSD. Therapists help the individual battling distressing emotions and beliefs, such as fear, guilt, shame, and inadequacy, with positive ones.
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This is used for children and adolescents, and it involves using trauma-sensitive interventions in conflation with humanistic principles and family and cognitive behavioral techniques.
- Group Therapy: Survivors of similar traumatic events can be encouraged to share their experiences, deepest fears, feelings, and coping mechanisms in a conducive and non-judgemental setting. This gives a sense of “normalcy” to the survivors in the sense that they realize that many in their shoes have felt and responded to similar stressors in similar ways. Therapy for the victim’s family is also recommended, as the distress and behavior of the survivor can affect the whole family dynamics.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: A trauma-focused type of psychotherapy administered over three months, it helps the survivor re-process the memory of the trauma and view it in a different and less negative light. The therapist curates a detailed treatment plan for the individual, and slowly the patient’s eye movements begin to mirror those in REM sleep. In due course, the memories associated with the trauma begin to lessen in intensity and adopt a less negative countenance.
- Stress Inoculation Training: If you aren’t comfortable with sharing the details of the traumatic incident you underwent, this one could be the perfect fit for you. A type of CBT, it can be done individually or in a group setting. The focus here is not on the details of the particular event but on overcoming the stress that comes with the associated memories. You will be imparted with breathing techniques or massage therapies that will help you counter the negative undercurrents of the traumatic episode with more positive connotations. Within a course of three months of Stress Inoculation Training (SIT), you should be able to let go of the extra stress in your mind, body, and soul and lead a holistically empowered life.
These therapies are based on the idea that you cannot process what happened to you after a traumatic event. Therefore, you took recourse to unhealthy modes of thought and actions, such as believing that no one is worthy of trust or blaming yourself for the incident. The therapist helps you restructure those unhealthy connotations with healthier and more practical ones. They will make you realize that deep down, you weren’t responsible for the course of the events, irrespective of what you did or didn’t do.
Much like cognitive processing therapies, prolonged exposure therapies are designed to break unhealthy thought patterns resulting from the outcome of a traumatic incident. For instance, as a response to trauma, one may develop a disproportionate fear response to the dangers one encounters.
The therapist will equip you with a repertoire of self-calming methods that you may employ in triggering situations. Once you successfully implement these techniques, your therapist will create a hierarchy of fears, from the least triggering to the most disturbing one, similar to the one elicited by the trauma.
Each step on the hierarchy will be taken only once the therapist has confirmed your ability to tackle the previous fear on the ladder. Over several months, you will learn to maneuver the hierarchy of fears while gaining new coping skills and strategies.
Over the course of the treatment and towards the end of it, the individual will come to realize that the memories associated with the trauma are not dangerous by themselves and therefore do not need to be overlooked or avoided.
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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
It is a therapy that uses eye movements to re-pattern and interrupt trauma-related memories you might have accumulated. After discussing your history with your therapist, you will be asked to choose a particularly disturbing memory and begin working on it.
The therapist will help you with eye-to-eye movements as you describe the memory in detail. As you begin processing the memory’s details and the feelings it evokes, you will slowly learn to remold the memory in a more positive light. The findings of a study confirmed a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety resulting from PTSD following EMDR therapy when administered by trained therapists.
Recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization) for the treatment of PTSD, it is a low-cost mode of therapy with little to negligible side effects.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, and yoga are known to restructure thought patterns and refocus one’s attention on the inhalation and exhalation process.
Mindfulness meditation helps the person redirect their attention to the current moment and learn to live in a state of moment-to-moment, non-judgemental awareness. MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) and MBB (mind-body bridging) have been shown to reduce symptoms of PTSD considerably. MBSR includes hatha yoga, awareness of breath meditations, walking meditations, and meditative body scans. MBB was used, especially for sleep, and teaches awareness skills to relax the body and calm the mind effectively.
Transcendental and mantra-based meditation has also been used to reduce and manage disorder symptoms. Transcendental meditation helps practitioners detach or transcend from their traumatic experiences. Mantra-based meditation enhances attention by instructing trauma survivors to focus on a word, phrase, or object. Sudarshan Kriya Yoga instructs participants to regain focus by practicing cyclical controlled breathing.
Yoga combines breathing techniques, meditation, physical postures, and relaxation to regain balance between the mind and body connection and mindfully pay attention to each and every moment and passage of breath.
Yoga and meditation have been used as complementary therapies along with medication and therapy in regulating symptoms of PTSD.
The brains of people suffering from PTSD function differently in response to perceived threats due to an imbalance in neurotransmitters. They suffer from an easy-to-trigger “fight or flight” response and are perennially jumpy, anxious, or on edge. As a result of consistently trying to shut that off, one may appear cold or emotionally distant.
Medications such as anti-depressants help you break the pattern of revisiting old traumatic memories and feel more connected to the daily routine again. They not only help you with the flashbacks and the recurrent nightmares but also help you regain a holistically positive outlook toward life.
While several categories of drugs affect your brain chemistry related to anxiety and fear, doctors begin with medications that affect the levels of neurotransmitters norepinephrine or serotonin, SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), and SNRIs (Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), which are used to treat depression.
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
The FDA has approved paroxetine and sertraline for treating and managing symptoms of PTSD.
Since everyone responds differently to medication and the nature of PTSD may vary from person to person, your mental health professional may prescribe medications “off-label” also (off-label means that the FDA has not reviewed the drug to treat PTSD specifically.) Suppose your mental health practitioner thinks it is advisable to use a particular class of medicines off-label to meet your bespoke requirements. In that case, it’s okay to follow their recommendations even if they are off-label.
The following are examples of some off-label drugs:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Antipsychotics or second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs)
Medications can help tackle specific concerns such as insomnia and nightmares. The best medication course for a particular individual will be decided based on their specific problems, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse issues, probable side effects, and requirements.
Your mental health professional might also try different permutations and combinations of medications to see what suits you best. They might also recommend specific tests to see the side effects of the medication, if any, on your liver function, etc.
Taking medications might not eliminate your symptoms; however, it will help you manage them so that you can lead a reasonably productive life.
Seek Help From a Trusted Therapist With DocVita Today
Dealing with a traumatic event can take a toll on the best of us. It disrupts the life of not only the trauma survivor but also hampers the quality of life of their family members or caretakers. If you know a loved one, friend, colleague, or co-worker suffering from the aftermath of a traumatic episode or a series, please let them know that help is at hand and that they aren’t alone in this uphill battle to reclaim their lives.
Affordable mental health care offered by trained and experienced mental health professionals is just a couple of clicks away at DocVita, where you can book yourself a video consultation with a therapist of your choice who is proficient in the same language as you without having to step out from the comfort zone of your home! The journey to wellness begins with a single step taken in the right direction. Take that step today to welcome a beautiful future and a calmer present!