A Closer Look at PTSD

One of the areas of work I feel particularly passionate about in my practice is facilitating recovery after a traumatic incident. Last week, I began a discussion of trauma and PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, one of my areas of specialty.

We often think of veterans when we think of PTSD. In large part, much of what we do know about trauma and PTSD is a result of the experiences of Vietnam veterans. Prior to that, while trauma responses existed, there had not been a whole lot of focus on understanding traumatic reactions. Although PTSD tends to be the issue that most often comes to mind when we consider trauma, there are a number of other responses to trauma, including things such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and difficulties in relationships. We will address some of these elements but, in our multi-episode Looking at Trauma series, we will mostly focus on PTSD. Most of these other issues are embedded within the constellation of PTSD and will make more sense as we understand PTSD.

To begin with, it’s important to understand what exactly a trauma is…

If we think about the definition of a trauma, it’s generally defined by dictionaries as a deeply distressing or disturbing occurrence. Often, in medical contexts, it’s described as a disruption. Different experts and different fields describe trauma in different ways, which can be confusing and even intimidate if we are looking to do our research.

However, there are some common elements in thinking about what a trauma specifically is. From the lens of mental health or psychology, trauma, as described by the American Psychological Association, is typically an emotional and somatic response to a terrible, overwhelming, situation.

According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, traumatic events are shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity. While the World Health Organization describes trauma as more of an emergent/disaster based situation.

There are a number of different events that can be traumatic. Some examples of these situations that may immediately come to mind include a serious and potentially life-threatening accident, assault, natural disaster, or combat. Other types of experiences can be traumatic as well such as surviving or witnessing a crime or physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as bullying or even a big move. Sometimes, trauma responses can follow any major change or disruption in a person’s life.

Many people are exposed to traumatic events. In the time immediately following a trauma, most people will have the experiences of PTSD that we will talk about. However, over time, for many people, those experiences naturally decrease, and they are not diagnosed with PTSD. In other words, they naturally recover from the traumatic event. There are some people who do not recover and are later diagnosed with PTSD. Based on that, it is helpful to think of PTSD as a problem in recovery. Something got in the way of you having that natural process of recovery, and the work of therapy is to determine what got in the way and to change it so that you can recover from what happened. You and your therapist will be working to get you ̳unstuck.

Let’s look at this in more depth…

Because we know that PTSD experiences are nearly universal immediately following very serious traumatic stressors and that recovery takes a few months under normal circumstances, it may be best to think about diagnosable PTSD as a disruption or stalling out of a normal recovery process, rather than the development of a unique psychopathology. A therapist needs to determine what has interfered with normal recovery. In one case, it may be that someone believes that they will be overwhelmed by the amount of emotional reactivity that will emerge if he stops avoiding and numbing himself. Perhaps s/he was taught as a child that emotions are bad, that s/he should just get over it.‖ In another case, someone may have refused to talk about what happened with anyone because s/he blames herself for ―letting‖ the event happen and she is so shamed and humiliated that s/he is convinced that others will blame her, too. In a third case, a person may have seen something so horrifying that every time s/he falls asleep and dreams about it, s/he wakes up in a cold sweat. So, in order to sleep, s/he drinks heavily. Yet another person may be so convinced that s/he will be victimized again that s/he refuses to go out anymore and has greatly restricted his/her activities and relationships. In still another case, in which other people were killed, a person may have survivor guilt and obsesses over why s/he was spared when others were killed. S/he feels unworthy and experiences guilt whenever s/he laughs or finds himself enjoying something. In all these instances, thoughts or avoidance behaviors are interfering with emotional processing and reshaping our beliefs. There are as many individual examples of things that can block a smooth recovery as there are individuals with PTSD.

There are several categories of experiences that tend to follow a traumatic event. Last week, we more closely examined each of the categories.

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The Vicious Cycle of Trauma and PTSD

As a Good Therapy Topic Expert, it is important to me to share information about the impact PTSD. In particular, with June the month of PTSD awareness, it is crucial to help provide accurate information about the struggles with this challenging experience.

Posttraumatic stress is characterized by intrusion, arousal, avoidance, and cognitive shifts—a cyclical experience that impedes the natural recovery process. You can read more about these experiences in my Good Therapy article here.

What did you learn in reading this? I’d love to hear your reactions and realizations – hit reply and let me know!

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

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A Closer Look at Reiki, Part 2

Last week, we looked a bit more thoroughly at understanding Reiki on the heels of my recent interview regarding how Reiki can impact our healing from compassion fatigue. Today, I wanted to further explore some questions about the impact of Reiki on our mental health.

Let’s begin with looking a bit at navigating overwhelming, stressful, and traumatic situations. An experience of trauma really takes a toll on us, particularly when there might be a greater sense of powerlessness and horror. In addition to the ways that Reiki can help to contribute to a greater sense of relief from the sadness and pain in secondary trauma and the stress and anxiety that accompany it, Reiki can help us stay more resilient when we are met with difficult situations and to also bounce back from them more readily and quickly. Another way that Reiki can help is that it can help us remain focused and think clearly which can help to navigate a difficult situation with more ease and set into motion factors that can bring on a better outcome. That on its own helps to cultivate a sense of empowerment and control which can really aid in combatting trauma.

We can also explore the ways that Reiki impacts depression. According to a study published in Alternate Therapies in Health and Medicine, patients who received regular Reiki treatments showed a significant reduction in the symptoms of psychological distress and depression. This symptom reduction continued for one year after the treatment regimen was complete.

The way that this works is that Reiki helps restore a person’s overall sense of balance, both in the mind and the body. This may help to improve the person’s mood and help him or her to overcome feelings of guilt and/or sadness that typically accompany depression.

We mentioned a few minutes ago that Reiki helped to slow down a person’s sympathetic autonomic system. This is the system that is activated when we experience anxiety and stress. It’s the primary mechanism in the fight or flight response. While the fight or flight response is valuable for us in the instant of a major stressor, over time, it begins to weaken us emotionally and physically. This then makes us more vulnerable to the negative impact of stress and anxiety. With this mechanism slowed down, our physiological responses to stress and anxiety begin to subside as well and provide us relief. In the Reiki mindset, there is a mind-body component to any kind of ailment whether it is physical or emotional and, in this case, there is an element of both present. Reiki works to restore the balance and harmony in both the emotional and physical body which can help us get back on track. Sessions provide a relaxing, soothing healing environment that ensures comfort and peace during the healing process. It’s this relaxed, peaceful state that helps to contribute to our emotional, physical, and mental well being.

Often, insomnia and fatigue come about as a result of something else going on – for some it’s stress, others anxiety, and we also often see it with depression and PTSD for example. In most cases, fatigue and insomnia tend to have an underpinning that indicates some kind of disharmony. Because Reiki works to restore balance by clearing away energetic or electrical blockages that get in the way of this harmony, it works to address the root cause of insomnia and fatigue.

I hope the last two weeks have given you a greater understanding of how Reiki can contribute to enhancing your life. You may still have questions or just be curious what it can offer you – just hit reply and let me know what you’re wondering!

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An Introduction to CPT for PTSD

Last week, I shared an overview of PTSD with a brief video. In the coming weeks, I will be exploring a bit more specific information about each cluster of what comprises PTSD. As we move forward in the next several weeks with this examination, I wanted to share an article I recently wrote for Natural Awakenings magazine wherein I take a closer look at one of the gold standard treatments for PTSD, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). 

This short-term approach for PTSD issues has been documented to provide long-standing relief in a number of scientifically robust studies. I have also seen it transform the lives of many people grappling with the challenges brought on by living with haunting trauma symptoms. It has been meaningful for me to be one of the few in NY state to offer this highly effective programs.

What areas of PTSD do you or a loved one struggle with?? Send me a quick email to let me know – that way, I can support you with information that can be helpful.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!  

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Understanding PTSD

For many  people, PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a daily struggle. In fact, this is true for one out of every nine women. For others, it might be something that a loved one struggles with. Still, a great deal of people have a bit of unclarity as to what PTSD entails. The video above gives an overview of the common features we see in PTSD.

What did you learn in watching this video? Share your thoughts and reactions in our Facebook and Twitter communities!

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“Beyond the Couch” Explores the Benefits of Group Therapy!

The newest episode of the “Beyond the Couch” podcast is here!

Today, we look at the benefits of group therapy, different formats of group therapy, and how we can gain the most benefit from group therapy. You can listen to the episode here!

Don’t forget: If you missed the first few episodes, they are always available via iTunes, on my website, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and YouTube.

If you’ve found these episodes helpful in some way, please be sure to read a rating and review so that 1.) I know what helps you and 2.) so that others in the same boat can find what they need.

Enjoy these first few episodes before the next one on Thursday – we’ll be focusing on Mindfulness!

10 Benefits of PMR

We looked at a great way of reducing tension and getting your body and mind relaxed with an introduction to Progressive muscle relaxation.  Now, let’s extend those great benefits with some additional ones!

Here are 10 additional benefits of PMR:

  • A decrease in your heart rate
  • A lowering of your blood pressure
  • A decrease in your rate of breathing
  • Your shoulders and chest will have relaxed, and so your breath will be deeper and not so shallow and high up in the chest.
  • Better oxygen levels in your bloodstream
  • Your brain wave activity will shift from beta waves to an increase in alpha waves, resulting in a more relaxed mental state with less mental chatter
  • Less muscle tension throughout your body
  • Decreased anxiety and panic
  • Lowers insomnia by relaxing restlessness and racing thoughts
  • Reduce nausea

How have you been enjoying PMR in your life? Share it to inspire others at the Chrysalis Psychological Services community.   Don’t forget to get your PMR script along with a complimentary audio guided exercise. Grab yours here!

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