Treatment for PTSD

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is characterized by reliving disturbing past experiences, feeling upset when reminded of a past stressful event, avoiding activities or situations that remind one of the trauma, feeling cut off from other people, and outbursts of irritability or even rage. 

Causes of PTSD

No one really knows why some people develop PTSD and others don't, despite having similar experiences. It likely that a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors play a role. It is clear, however, that the mind can be affected by traumatic experiences. Some people are unable to process the thoughts and feelings associated with a trauma, and the event remains front and center in consciousness. 

Researchers have documented abnormalities in the amygdala and hippocampus areas of the brain in people with PTSD. There is also evidence that PTSD disrupts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormonal axis.

Risk factors for PTSD

People at risk for PTSD includes those who have faced long-term trauma, such as childhood abuse or abuse. PTSD can also occur in people who experience intense, short-lived trauma, such as the victims of a  home invasion. People who are constantly exposed to violence or danger, such as members of the military and first responders, are at greater risk. Risk increases when there is a history of mental illness in the family, a lack of supportive friends or family, or a history of alcohol or substance abuse.

People who experience interpersonal trauma, such as warfare or a crime, or more likely to develop PTSD than the survivors of natural catastrophes or accidents. PTSD has nothing to do with weakness of character. In fact, PTSD is more likely to be found in those who try to be fully self-reliant. More women are diagnosed with PTSD than men, but this is because women are more likely to seek help when faced with a problem.

How PTSD can be overcome

Recovering from PTSD usually requires a combination of medication and therapy. The goal of psychotherapy is to help the client integrate traumatic memories. The first involves developing healthy coping skills to deal with the symptoms of PTSD. The second step is to revisit the traumatic event and reprocess it in a new way.  Specialized forms of cognitive behavioral therapy are used to help in the healing from trauma, including body work. The final step is integration of the feelings and memories surrounding a trauma. 

At Centre for Counseling of Aventura, we treat victims of childhood neglect and emotional abuse, but do not treat sexual abuse because this requires specialized expertise.

PTSD is a serious problems among veterans. Veterans often do best in programs tailored to their needs that include other veterans. These programs can usually be accessed through the VA. More information about resources for veterans with PTSD can be obtained at

Types of PTSD

Normal stress response

When healthy adults are exposed to a single traumatic event, they may experience emotional numbing, a feeling of unreality, distress, and intense bad memories. Usually, recovery is achieved within a few weeks. Recovery can be aided by therapeutic guidance in processing the memories and responses, and identifying positive ways of coping.

Acute stress disorder

When an individual experiences devastating loss, such as the destruction of a home or community in a natural disaster or the witnessing of widespread death, that individual may respond with mental confusion, panic, and emotional paralysis that makes it impossible to carry out normal activities. Treatment for acute stress disorder includes therapeutic support and the use of medication to relieve anxiety, insomnia, and grief. Counseling in the form of crisis intervention can help the individual process the loss.

Uncomplicated PTSD

This involves constantly re-experiencing a traumatic event along with emotional numbness, avoidance of related stimuli, and anxiety. It usually responds to a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Complex PTSD (Extreme stress) 

This occurs in people who have experienced prolonged trauma, especially childhood sexual abuse. Many of these people are diagnosed with borderline, antisocial, or dissociative personality disorders. They may exhibit behavioral disorders, such as sexual acting out, substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. The treatment of these individuals usually requires a specialized trauma team. 

Comorbid PTSD

Comorbid PTSD is the existence of PTSD with concurrent psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. It is much more common than uncomplicated PTSD. It requires the treatment of both disorders simultaneously. Usually, the same treatments used for uncomplicated PTSD are combined with treatment specifically targeting the comorbid disorder(s).

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