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Dealing With PTSD: A Comprehensive Guide to Healing and Recovery

Updated: May 10



Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can arise after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, leaving the individual feeling emotionally shattered and overwhelmed. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment options for PTSD, as well as how to support a loved one dealing with this disorder. Additionally, we will highlight the unique approach and style of therapy offered by The Counselling Space.


Understanding PTSD


What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens one's safety or makes them feel helpless. While it's normal to experience feelings of fear, sadness, anxiety, and disconnection after such an event, these emotions may persist and develop into PTSD if they do not fade over time.

Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD include:

  • War or military combat

  • Natural disasters

  • Car or plane crashes

  • Terrorist attacks

  • Sudden death of a loved one

  • Rape or sexual assault

  • Kidnapping

  • Physical or emotional abuse

  • Childhood neglect

Causes of PTSD

PTSD occurs when one's nervous system is unable to return to its normal state of balance following a traumatic event. This inability to "unstick" and heal from the trauma can cause ongoing distress and disruption in an individual's life.

PTSD vs. a Normal Response to Traumatic Events

Following a traumatic event, it's normal to experience symptoms similar to those of PTSD. However, for most people, these symptoms are short-lived and gradually improve over time. If symptoms persist and worsen, it's possible that PTSD has developed.


Signs and Symptoms of PTSD


While PTSD can manifest differently in each person, there are four main types of symptoms:


1. Re-experiencing the Traumatic Event

This may involve:

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event

  • Flashbacks (feeling as if the event is happening again)

  • Nightmares related to the event or other fears

  • Intense distress when reminded of the trauma

  • Physical reactions to triggers (e.g., rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea)

2. Avoidance and Numbing

This can include:

  • Avoiding activities, places, or thoughts related to the trauma

  • Inability to remember important aspects of the event

  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general

  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb

  • A sense of a limited future (e.g., not expecting a normal life span, marriage, or career)

3. Increased Anxiety and Emotional Arousal (Hyperarousal)

Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

  • Irritability or outbursts of anger

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Hypervigilance (being constantly on "red alert")

  • Feeling jumpy or easily startled

  • Engaging in self-destructive or reckless behavior

4. Negative Thoughts and Mood Changes

These may involve:

  • Feeling alienated and alone

  • Depression and hopelessness

  • Mistrust and feelings of betrayal

  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame

  • Substance abuse

  • Physical aches and pains

  • Suicidal thoughts

PTSD in Children and Adolescents

In children and adolescents, PTSD symptoms can differ from those in adults and may include:

  • Fear of being separated from a parent

  • Regression in previously-acquired skills (e.g., toilet training)

  • Sleep problems and nightmares

  • Repetitive play involving themes or aspects of the trauma

  • New phobias and anxieties seemingly unrelated to the trauma

  • Acting out the trauma through play, stories, or drawings

  • Unexplained aches and pains

  • Irritability and aggression

Assessing and Diagnosing PTSD


If you suspect that you or a loved one may have PTSD, it's essential to seek professional help for an accurate diagnosis. While a questionnaire or self-assessment can provide some insight, a mental health professional is best equipped to evaluate and diagnose PTSD.


Risk Factors for PTSD

Certain factors may increase one's vulnerability to developing PTSD after a traumatic event. These risk factors include:

  • Previous traumatic experiences, especially in early life

  • Family history of PTSD or depression

  • History of physical or sexual abuse

  • History of substance abuse

  • History of mental illness, such as depression or anxiety

  • High levels of stress in everyday life

  • Lack of support following the trauma

Types of PTSD and Trauma


PTSD can result from various distressing experiences, including military combat, childhood abuse or neglect, racism, accidents, natural disasters, personal tragedy, or violence.


PTSD in Military Veterans

For many veterans, returning from military service can involve coping with PTSD symptoms. Treatment options, such as therapy and support groups, can help veterans manage their symptoms and ease the transition back into civilian life.


Emotional and Psychological Trauma

Traumatic events that shatter one's sense of safety can result in psychological trauma. This can include accidents, injuries, sudden death of a loved one, bullying, domestic abuse, or deeply humiliating experiences. With the right support and treatment, it's possible to overcome the impact of such trauma and move forward.


Rape or Sexual Trauma

The trauma of rape or sexual assault can be devastating, leaving individuals feeling frightened, ashamed, and alone. Treatment and support are essential in helping survivors regain their sense of safety, trust, and self-worth.


Racial Trauma

Race-based traumatic stress can stem from exposure to racist abuse, discrimination, or injustice. This type of trauma can lead to anxiety, depression, chronic stress, and even PTSD symptoms. Building resilience and seeking support are crucial in managing racial trauma.


Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)

Complex PTSD is a more severe form of PTSD resulting from chronic exposure to traumatic events, such as ongoing domestic violence, slavery, or torture. Individuals with C-PTSD may experience similar symptoms to PTSD, along with negative thoughts about themselves, difficulty controlling emotions, and challenges in relationships.


Treatment and Therapies for PTSD


Seeking professional help for PTSD is crucial to recovery. Treatment options include:

Trauma-focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This approach involves gradually exposing oneself to feelings and situations related to the trauma while replacing distorted thoughts with a more balanced perspective.


Family Therapy

Family therapy can help loved ones understand the impact of PTSD and work together to resolve relationship challenges.


Medication

While medication does not directly treat PTSD, it can help alleviate secondary symptoms of depression or anxiety.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR combines elements of CBT with rhythmic, left-right stimulation to help "unfreeze" the brain's information processing system.


The Counselling Space Approach


At The Counselling Space, compassionate and experienced therapists offer a unique approach to treating PTSD and trauma, incorporating a variety of therapeutic methods and styles tailored to each individual's needs. These may include:

  • Person-centered therapy

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • Solution-focused therapy

  • Mindfulness techniques

  • Stress management strategies

By providing a safe and supportive environment, The Counselling Space aims to empower individuals to heal from their trauma and regain a sense of control over their lives.


Self-Help Strategies for PTSD


In addition to professional treatment, there are several self-help strategies that can aid in PTSD recovery:

  1. Challenge your sense of helplessness by taking positive actions, such as volunteering or helping others.

  2. Engage in regular exercise, focusing on rhythmic activities that involve both the arms and legs.

  3. Reach out to others for support, connecting with friends, family, or support groups.

  4. Adopt a healthy lifestyle, including relaxation techniques, avoiding alcohol and drugs, maintaining a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep.

Supporting a Loved One with PTSD


Helping a loved one with PTSD can be challenging but essential in their recovery process. Key strategies include:

  • Encouraging them to seek professional help

  • Offering a listening ear and emotional support

  • Avoiding pressuring them to talk about the trauma

  • Being patient and understanding

  • Encouraging them to engage in self-care and healthy coping strategies

By understanding the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for PTSD, as well as the unique approach offered by The Counselling Space, individuals can find hope and healing on their journey to recovery.

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