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Understanding PTSD

Kyle Caldwell, M.Ed, LPCC-S

The month of June is PTSD Awareness Month, and below I would like to share some helpful information regarding what trauma is and what kind of treatments are available. Trauma can truly affect people, directly or indirectly, in all areas of life. Many people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might feel as if things will never change, but it is extremely important to know that treatment is available and life can improve.
What is Trauma?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes trauma as: 1) Direct experiences that lead someone to feel that their life is in danger or that they are at risk of serious bodily harm, 2) Witnessing such events happen to somebody else, 3) Learning that such an event happened to a loved one or close friend, and 4) Having repeated exposure to situations that involve traumatic events towards others. In addition to the criteria mentioned above, most clinicians would also agree that certain events that occur in early childhood such as sexual/physical abuse, neglect, and unstable living environments would also constitute as trauma.
Symptoms of Trauma
The most common symptoms of trauma will fall under the following four categories:
  1. Re-experiencing (Flashbacks, nightmares, frightening and intrusive thoughts)
  2. Avoidance (Staying away from things that are related to, or remind you of the trauma)
  3. Increased hypervigilance (Being easily startled, on-edge, feeling like something could happen at any time, and increased angry outbursts)
  4. Disturbances in cognition and mood (Difficulty remembering aspects of the trauma, trouble concentrating, negative thoughts of one’s self, and losing interest in activities once enjoyed)
In addition to these, children or adolescents may present with symptoms that may seem more subtle, or harder to recognize as being related to trauma. In early childhood, they may struggle with things like bed-wetting, missed developmental milestones, clinginess, and acting out their trauma in dramatic play. Older children and teens may show disruptive and oppositional/defiant behaviors.
Treatments available
There are many types of evidenced-based treatments available to treat PTSD and other trauma and stressor-related disorders. Some of the most recommended are Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If you are looking for treatment you would need to consult with a clinical mental health provider (LPCC, LISW, IMFT, Psy.D, or MD) and see if they offer it or can refer you to someone who does. In some cases medication may also be warranted, in which case you should seek out a psychiatrist who is well acquainted with the treatment of post-traumatic stress. As always, if you are uncertain of where to start you can always go to your primary care physician, or look for a therapist on
Understanding PTSD
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