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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma

At one time or another, we will experience something traumatic. Often, these terrifying events are unforeseen.  Regardless of whether they begin and end in an instant or transpire over time, the effects of trauma can last for the rest of our lives. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by anxiety from previous traumatic events and can affect anyone who is predisposed at any stage in their lives.  The most common symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks of the event, depression and increased irritability.

Rape victims may experience reoccurring nightmares and relive the attack for years after the incident. It’s not uncommon for war veterans—especially those who have experienced combat—to have long-lasting anxiety, flashbacks or angry outbursts. Children who are trauma victims or witnesses of abuse may withdraw from friends, refuse to talk or experience frequent stomach aches.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, post-traumatic stress disorder affects 7.7 million adults. However, women are more likely to develop PTSD than men. The symptoms of PTSD can range from mild to severe and usually begin within three months of the frightening ordeal.

There are four types of post-traumatic stress disorder:

Acute Stress Disorder

Symptoms appear within the first month of the trauma and last between two days and four weeks.

Acute Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms last for more than four weeks after the trauma.

Delay Onset Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Diagnosed when the signs and symptoms develop years after the traumatic event.

Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms last for more than three months, disappear for a few days, and then reappear. The degree of post-traumatic stress disorder varies among individuals. Some people experience mild symptoms—such as irritability—while others are debilitated by the co-occurring disorders that often accompanying PTSD, such as substance abusedepression and anxiety disorders. That’s why it’s important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional to treat the post-traumatic stress disorder along with any co-occurring conditions to facilitate a full recovery.

Below is a list of some of the common signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Reliving the trauma
  • Unexplained fear
  • Low self-confidence
  • Anger
  • Frightening memories
  • Emotional numbness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Blackouts
  • Muscle aches
  • Phobias of people/places
  • Sleep problems
  • Emotional detachment
  • Family discord
  • Substance misuse
  • Flashbacks
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hyper-arousal
  • Easily startled
  • Nightmares
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Parenting difficulties
  • Avoiding thoughts about the event
  • Violent outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Concentration problems
  • Marital discord
  • Obsessiveness
  • Memory problems surrounding the event

(Because these symptoms in and of themselves do not always indicate the presence of PTSD, please contact your physician or mental health treatment provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis.)

At Lifeskills South Florida, we treat the full continuum of post-traumatic stress responses, including both simple and complex PTSD.  Each client is individually assessed and treatment plans are individualized to address the specific clinical issues.  We offer both female and male trauma tracks where clients have a space to safely process issues related to their traumatic experiences. These groups also offer psycho-education regarding trauma and its effects as well as concrete skills to enable clients to cope with the debilitating aftereffects of trauma including flashbacks, nightmares and dissociation.

In addition to the gender specific trauma groups, the treatment team at Lifeskills includes specially trained clinicians who provide targeted trauma treatment such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).

CPT is evidence-based and has been proven to effectively treat individuals struggling with PTSD. CPT aims to retrain the brain to think differently about the traumatic event.  All too often with post-traumatic stress disorder, the witness takes on the blame for the outcome of the traumatic occurrence. Through talk therapy, the therapist will be able to help a client decide if the thoughts are justified or not through reconceptualization. One of the primary goals is to identify which emotions are obstructing recovery. Nearing the end of the final session, the therapist will work with the client to devise a relapse prevention plan which will keep the client in recovery from their PTSD.

In addition to CPT, clients are treated with a combination of the following treatments:

  • Exposure Therapyto desensitize the fear surrounding the memories
  • Antidepressants and Other Medicationsto improve sleep and reduce anxiety and intrusive recollection of the traumatic event.
  • Group Therapyto gain new insight from others who have had similar experiences
  • Brief Psychodynamic Psychotherapy to understand how past trauma affects present-day emotions
  • Family Therapyto help family members who are affected by the victim’s trauma

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have post-traumatic stress disorder, please contact a professional mental health provider for diagnosis and treatment.