Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is almost always associated with soldiers returning from war. However, PTSD is not just a diagnosis for service members returning from combat; it can be a diagnosis for survivors of a multitude of situations. Domestic violence, homelessness, certain job positions, and childhood abuse are all situations that can breed PTSD diagnoses. The root of this diagnosis is the survival of trauma, and trauma can present itself in many forms. If you have survived a rape or sexual assault, experienced a natural disaster, lived through times of continuous stress, witnessed a crime, etc. you have experienced trauma--and you could be living with PTSD. You are not alone if you are.
A hallmark symptom of this disorder is the presence of flashback memories and nightmares, but these flashback experiences are not the only symptom a person suffers from if they are diagnosed with PTSD. Other symptoms and experiences that one may notice include: avoidance behaviors, thinking patterns and mood shift towards the negative, self destructive behaviors, problems sleeping, etc. For a more detailed list of symptoms, check out this article from the Mayo Clinic. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, these symptoms must be experienced for an extended period of time, and they must impact daily life.
Now, let’s talk about treatment. PTSD treatment, like the trauma that causes the disorder, can come in many different forms. When seeking treatment for this disorder, it is important to remember that some treatments are more tested, (or evidence-based), than others. In other words, some treatments have been tested by experts and have statistically proven their effectiveness, and some have not been tested as stringently. Here’s the deal: evidence-based treatments are effective and work for many people, but it doesn’t necessarily work for everybody. Evidence-based treatments, (like cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), are heralded by the Veterans Administration for PTSD in veterans, but will they be applicable to people in other communities? All this to say: explore treatment modalities, and consider different options, just don’t give up!
Talk therapy, to include cognitive behavioral therapy, (CBT), is a tried and true treatment for PTSD, but treatment modalities are moving towards a more holistic approach. This means that the fields of social work and psychology are beginning to realize that the body experiences trauma when the mind does, and perhaps incorporating movement and body connection into treatment can provide more healing across the board. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, (EMDR), is a well researched treatment modality that processes trauma using a unique eye movement practice, bringing the mind-body connection into modern PTSD treatment. Trauma informed yoga, animal-assisted therapy, acupuncture, expressive arts therapy, and outdoor excursion groups are some of the newer treatments that include the body and movement in trauma treatment. If you do not feel comfortable finding words to process your trauma, consider an alternative treatment. For those in communities where talking about mental health and trauma is frowned upon, these alternative ways of processing can help guide those suffering to a path of healing.
PTSD is a scary diagnosis that can be misunderstood by many, but you are not alone. Take the time to understand your symptoms, and find the treatment that works best for you. Start by exploring the resources below, and then reach out to agencies and experts in your community. Don’t forget that a really important part of working through any mental health diagnosis is the presence of a support system. If you do not have support from your loved ones, consider a support group in your area. This does not have to be a battle that you fight alone.
Alaina Guzman, MSW Colo