Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Does Not Have to Last Forever

Of the many mental conditions that human beings are faced with, one of the most devastating is undoubtedly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The condition, which is in reality a response to a life-threatening event, can result in flashbacks of the traumatic event, hyper-arousal, emotional numbing, and many other symptoms, that can make it difficult to view life as it once was. Relationships can be compromised, jobs can be lost, and the sense of wellbeing one may have enjoyed, can be taken away in just a few seconds. In addition to these symptoms, many people who develop PTSD also become addicted to substances. Drugs and alcohol are a way to numb or escape from the incredibly intense emotions and sensations that the condition can bring. Therefore, when dealing with PTSD, it is vital to address any other concurrent conditions, including addiction and depression.

There are many myths surrounding PTSD; one is that everyone who experiences a traumatic situation, has PTSD – in fact, among groups who have experienced the same traumatic event, many do not develop PTSD, a condition which is dependent on many factors, including genetics and environmental factors. The second myth is even more devastating, since it imprisons those who suffer it, in a hopeless scenario: the myth that PTSD can never be overcome, that it lasts forever.

While it is difficult to obtain facts about success rates for recovery from PTSD (because it can take people years to find the therapist or programme that ‘clicks’ with them individually), research indicates that a majority of those suffering from the condition, manage to achieve complete recovery; some individuals still have symptoms but do manage to recover to an extent that enables them to have healthy relationships, pursue education, and obtain employment. For a smaller percentage of people, PTSD is a lifelong condition that makes it difficult for them to hold down a job or relationship; they may function well for a few days or weeks, but when symptoms return, it can feel just as devastating as it did when the condition first commenced.

The good news is that as the years go by, treatments are growing in effectiveness. Researchers are utilising new medications and virtual reality simulations to boost the effectiveness of proven therapies and the outcomes are highly promising. Some of the most effective treatments to date include:

    • Pharmacotherapy: Paxil and Zoloft, two FDA-approved medications, enjoy good success rates with patients battling PTSD. Other medications are also used when concurrent conditions (such as psychosis or depression) are present.
    • Prolonged exposure therapy: The best way to rid oneself of the trauma of a painful event, it seems, is to reduce its hold over one’s psyche, by reliving it many times. Thus, a trained therapist will guide their patient through recollections of the trauma, until the patient can control the way they think and feel about it.
    • Cognitive processing therapy: This is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one of the most successful therapies in treating anxiety, depression, addiction and eating disorders. This therapy emphasizes the interconnection between how we think, behave and act. Changing one of these three actions can have an immensely positive effect on the other two, which makes experimentation with new cognitive strategies vital. CPT involves 12 sessions; it teaches patients how to evaluate and change one’s thoughts and feelings. Another type of CBT often used involves teaching patients breathing techniques and muscle relaxation, to battle the symptoms of anxiety.
    • EMDR: Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing involves the therapist asking the client to make specific eye movements or follow hand taps while they remember difficult events. This therapy is quite controversial because it is difficult to establish why it works for many individuals. Still, it does have a proven success rate and is worth a try when other therapies are not working.
    • Alternative Therapies: So-called ‘alternative therapies’ such as yoga, Tai-Chi and mindful meditation have been proven to lower levels of stress hormone, improve mood, enhance sleep quality, and increase vitality. They are currently part of many successful programs for addiction, eating disorders, and PTSD. Learning mindfulness techniques enables individuals to remain ‘in the here and now’, controlling body and mind and preventing negative thoughts from instigating the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Jenni Falconer
October 2016

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