Reliving the Horrors: PTSD

Reliving the Horrors - PTSD - Cluff Counseling, Trauma & EMDR TherapyPTSD is powerful and can change how people think, feel, act, interact with others, and see the world. It is estimated 8% or 24.4 million Americans will experience PTSD at a given time…that’s the entire state of Texas!

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder and can develop in someone who experiences a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Examples of traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include, but are not limited to, the following: community violence like shootings, terrorist attacks, muggings, burglaries, physical or sexual assault, and bullying; sexual and/or physical abuse, natural disasters;  being in or witnessing a serious car accident; sudden unexpected or violent death of someone close; a serious injury like severe burns or a dog attack; a major surgery or a life-threatening illness; war or political violence.

PTSD manifests in a multiplicity of ways that is unique to the person and specific to his or her trauma. For example, someone attacked by a shark may never want to get in open water again. A person in a car accident may develop a fear of riding or driving in cars. Because the term PTSD often gets thrown around, I have included the list of signs and symptoms that mental health and medical professionals assess to diagnose PTSD.

You may have PTSD if you have the following symptoms for at least one month (as always, I would encourage scheduling an appointment with an experienced, licensed psychologist to get an official diagnosis):

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom:
      • Vivid nightmares
      • Frightening and/or intrusive thoughts
      • Flashbacks–reliving the trauma over and over
  • At least one avoidance symptom:
      • Staying away from places, events, or objects that remind you of the traumatic experience
      • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
      • Changing personal routines (like not driving or riding in a car after being in a car accident)
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms:
      • Being easily startled
      • Feeling tense or “on edge”
      • Having difficulty sleeping
      • Having angry outbursts
      • Physical re-activity after exposure to traumatic reminders
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms:
    • Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
    • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
    • Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
    • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
    • Feeling isolated
    • Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders

It is natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a month, seriously affect one’s ability to function, and are not due to substance use or medical illness, it is called PTSD. Some people with PTSD may not show any symptoms for weeks or months. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or an anxiety disorder.

Children, teens, and adults alike can get PTSD–it is a respecter of no one. Children under the age of six may exhibit behaviors like wetting the bed (despite having mastered potty training), forgetting how to or being unable to talk, acting out the scary event during playtime, or being unusually clingy with a parent or other adult. Older children and teens will likely respond more like adults (listed above). It is estimated that 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD.

It is important to note that not everyone who lives through a dangerous event develops PTSD. In fact, most people will not develop the disorder. Possible resilience factors that can decrease the likelihood of PTSD include seeking support from friends and family, finding a support group after a traumatic event, learning to feel good about one’s own actions in the face of danger, having a positive coping strategy, and being able to act and respond effectively despite feeling fear.

There is hope for those with PTSD. Depending on the severity of the PTSD, the individual may need psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy), medication, or a combination of the two. Treatment plans vary depending on the individual’s circumstances, limitations, and needs. I utilize and have been trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a type of trauma-focused psychotherapy, which has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD. EMDR involves using bilateral stimulation while the client keeps in mind various parts of the trauma (which helps your brain work through the traumatic memories). Please contact me to discuss which type of treatment might be most effective for you.

Living with anxiety, trouble sleeping, traumatizing dreams, repetitive flashbacks can make it hard to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Seeking support and guidance through a friend, family member, or a therapist can assist you in the healing process. Call me today to set up your first session and allow me to help you find stability, health, and happiness again.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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