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May 3, 2018

Treatment Available to Help Patients With PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, affects 7.8 percent of all people. People with PTSD experience distressing, intrusive thoughts and memories from a traumatic experience.

Practicing Mindfulness, Other Therapy Options Help Deal with Past

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, affects 7.8 percent of all people. People with PTSD experience distressing, intrusive thoughts and memories from a traumatic experience whether they were in an accident, were a victim of abuse or assault, were in a violent situation, such as military combat, or learning that a traumatic event occurred to a loved one. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to highlight PTSD.

While many people experience a traumatic experience at some point in their life, not everyone develops PTSD. People who do not have a supportive environment to share their traumatic experiences are more likely to develop PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD include feeling intense distress from the memory of a trauma, avoiding reminders of the incident, having flashbacks, feeling disconnected from reality, having trouble with concentration, irritability, sleep problems and can easily be startled. Patients with PTSD tend to avoid anything that can trigger remembering the experience.

While PTSD can interfere with a patient’s everyday life, effective treatment is available. Some leading treatments include:

Prolonged exposure: During prolonged exposure therapy, a therapist teaches the patient to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations he has been avoiding. Patients are able to decrease their PTSD symptoms by confronting these challenges.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): PTSD patients often have trouble making sense of what happened to them. EMDR helps patients process upsetting memories, thoughts and feelings related to the trauma so they can begin to heal. With a therapist’s help, patients pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while recalling the upsetting memory. They keep doing this until the way they experience the memory shifts and is less distressing.

Cognitive-based trauma therapy: This therapy helps families, children and teens recover from a traumatic experience. A therapist tailors a plan that meets the needs of children and teens who endured a trauma and includes cognitive behavioral and family strategies to help with the healing process.

Practicing mindfulness:  A therapist can help a patient learn to be more mindful by teaching exercises that return attention to the current moment and help him focus on one thing at a time. When someone focuses on the feelings associated with breathing, eating, walking, a sound or by what is seen, he can stay in the present and not be overwhelmed by the past event. Mindfulness can improve attention, emotional regulation and self awareness.

Medication: Patients with PTSD can benefit from taking medications normally prescribed for people with anxiety and depression. PTSD can create chemical changes in the brain that help people deal with anxiety and stress. The prescription medications can help re-balance the brain chemicals. Medication works best when used with another PTSD treatment.

If you suspect you may have PTSD, do not be afraid to seek help. By admitting there is a problem, you can get the help you need to move past what happened and focus on the present and future. If you have a loved one with PTSD, encourage him or her to seek help so the healing process can begin.

Rachel Bresler is a licensed professional counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health.