What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops following a traumatic event. Examples of trauma include severe accidents and physical and/or sexual assault. Or a person could witness or be a victim of violence, or a serious accident. Trauma can have a lasting impact on anyone but with PTSD, the effects are so severe that people continue to ‘relive’ the traumatic event. They may have flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts. This leaves them unable to move on from their trauma. They may also have certain sensory triggers that will bring them back to their trauma. An example of this is PTSD in soldiers, who may be triggered by sounds resembling gunfire. People with PTSD often describe feeling like the traumatic event is actually happening again. And reliving the event inhibits a person’s ability to accept and move on from their trauma.

Treatment for PTSD

There are a variety of factors that make treating trauma complex. These can include the nature and severity of the trauma, as well as the age when the experience occurred.

Psychoanalytic Therapy for PTSD

Psychoanalytic therapy for PTSD considers all of the above factors. Ultimately the treatment is grounded in a unique understanding of the self. When someone struggles long term with the effects of trauma, they can often feel ‘defined’ by it. This can cause a sense of inadequacy, and can also cause people to react with fear or hostility to the people around them.

A traumatic experience takes on a deep and significant meaning for an individual. Psychoanalytic therapy invites a person to explore this meaning, deconstructing the effects of past experiences whilst anchored safely in the present.

The psychotherapist will create a secure space where the person can process the source of their feelings. Ultimately, the goal of psychoanalytic therapy is acceptance. A person will learn to accept the traumatic experience so they can move forward with their lives.

Find out more about psychoanalysis for treating PTSD on our psychoanalytic therapy page.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for PTSD

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders manifest as negative thought patterns. People with PTSD find themselves unable to cope with thoughts of panic, threat, and fear.

Trauma can drastically alter a person’s perception of themselves and the world around them. Not only can they view their environments as unsafe, they may believe that they deserve to feel the way they do. For instance, if someone was a victim of violence, they may feel as though ‘bad things happen to bad people.’  Cognitive behavioural therapy aims to replace these thoughts with positive, ‘realistic’ ones. This helps people accept that the event happened in the past, and cannot define their future.

Cognitive behavioural therapy helps people develop coping mechanisms in their day-to-day lives. The ultimate goal is to have the ability to manage the symptoms of trauma. Previously, CBT would involve people reliving their trauma as a form of exposure therapy. However, these techniques are no longer practiced due to the risk they have on a person’s wellbeing.

Understanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

All human beings experience distressing events, whether they occur as part of our day-to-day lives or as a result of a specific event such as the loss of a family member or the end of a long-term relationship. This is a normal part of life and usually, after an initial grieving period, we can come to terms with difficult events and continue with our lives as normal. But some events and experiences are so traumatic that they have a serious and long-lasting psychological impact on us.

While we all handle trauma differently, common feelings include fear, anger or guilt. Over time, these feelings usually dissipate as we begin to move on from their trauma. On some occasions, they can last for months or even years and this could be a sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an anxiety disorder, but people can also exhibit signs of depression. When someone fails to move forward from a past event, this can be hugely detrimental to their self-esteem. People with PTSD will often attempt to mask or avoid their feelings. This can result in self-destructive behaviour, such as self-harm or substance abuse. Psychoanalytic therapy is really beneficial for these cases (see above section on this type of therapy).

The physical symptoms of PTSD are similar to those of other anxiety disorders. Stress has multiple physical indicators, but with PTSD they are both exacerbated and long-lasting. These symptoms can include insomnia, shaking, sweating, and nausea and heart palpitations. All of these symptoms will take a toll on both a person’s physical health and mental wellbeing when experienced regularly.

To learn more about how CBT can help post-traumatic stress disorder, visit our cognitive behavioural therapy page.