Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can show up after a person has a traumatic event. Even though the immediate threat to the survivor of the trauma has passed, the survivor feels as though it is still there. Examples of the disorder can be flashbacks, nightmares and sleep disturbances. Post-traumatic stress symptoms can be severe. Someone experiencing PTSD often feels alone, guilty or irritable. It is important to seek professional help if the symptoms are interfering with daily functioning.
Post-traumatic stress symptoms
Post-traumatic stress symptoms can be placed into three groups:
- re-experiencing parts of the traumatic event;
- hyperarousal (constantly feeling tense or emotional);
- avoidance and feeling numb.
Re-experiencing the traumatic event includes nightmares, flashbacks, invasive thoughts and images, and physical and psychological manifestations that recur after the event (such as sweating and heart palpitations).
Hyperarousal means that a survivor feels constantly tense or fearful despite being physically safe – the fight or flight response is active all the time. Symptoms include extreme panic, hostility and irritability, impulsivity and self-sabotaging behaviours, concentration problems and sleeping disturbances.
Avoidance means that survivors attempt to escape fear and anxiety by avoiding reminders of the traumatic event. Because of this, certain locations, individuals and conditions are avoided. Survivors try to feel nothing as opposed to feeling constant fear so they subconsciously try to numb themselves emotionally. People suffering from PTSD often feel removed and alienated. They often become dependent on substances and are often incapable of displaying affection.
Seeking professional help for PTSD symptoms
Post-traumatic stress disorder is often left undiagnosed because of the many ways in which the disorder can present. This means that many are left untreated, and continue to experience symptoms. Many survivors do not openly discuss their emotions. Others do not want to be a ‘burden’ and therefore do not talk about what they going through.
If you are experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms, it is essential to get treatment. If you do not want to discuss symptoms with family members, it is possible to be referred to a mental-healthcare professional via a GP. Part of the treatment for post-traumatic stress symptoms is counselling to address psychological effects. The other part targets physiological effects. The former part allows talking through experiences in a safe, confidential environment.
Different approaches are available
Various therapeutic approaches are used for PTSD counselling. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one example. CBT allows clients to recognise, understand and correct bad thought patterns. They then master their trauma and are no longer powerless in the face of their fear. The emphasis is on concentrating on reality and realistic thoughts so that triggers of the traumatic event do not allow for old thinking patterns. CBT as a talking therapy is particularly helpful in helping with anxiety, phobias and depression.
For complex PTSD symptoms are addressed by emphasising self-discovery and coming to understand the traumatic event during counselling. Survivors can therefore make sense of the traumatic event, learn that they did not ‘deserve’ the experience, and eventually overcome it. They rediscover the ability to control certain aspects of their lives.
Even if Post-traumatic stress symptoms have been experienced for extended periods of time, treatment can still be effective. Counselling is important regardless of how long ago the trauma occurred.