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Healing From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Everyone deals with trauma differently. At times, experiencing traumatic events can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although this disorder may feel isolating, remember that many people are diagnosed with PTSD—probably more than you realize. And because of this, there are so many different resources available that can help you along your recovery process.

Rehab is one of those resources. Attending a treatment center can help you process your emotions and feelings related to the trauma you’ve experienced, and to learn to cope with them in a healthy way.

Finding a rehab that treats PTSD can be an effective and supportive place to begin your recovery journey.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a disorder that develops in response to a traumatic event.1 Symptoms from PTSD may develop soon after the trauma occurred, but can also arise months or even years later. You may have PTSD if you have any of the symptoms below and notice that they last longer than 4 weeks, are extremely stressful, and significantly affect your life.

The symptoms of PTSD include (but aren’t limited to) the following:

  • Reliving the event: This may involve nightmares or flashbacks, especially when a trigger is present. A trigger is something that reminds you of the event, such as a loud noise or seeing an accident similar to the one you experienced, that elicits a strong emotional reaction.
  • Avoiding anything or anyone that reminds you of the event.
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts and emotions on a consistent basis after the event: For example, you may feel guilt or shame, lose interest in things you once enjoyed, or feel numb.
  • Feeling on edge: You may feel you have to be “ready for anything” and find it difficult to sleep, concentrate, or may be easily startled.

It may feel daunting to realize that you might have PTSD. However, know that it’s not just you—according to the National Center for PTSD, PTSD in adults is not rare.2 They estimate that 6 of every 100 people will be diagnosed with PTSD during their life.

The Many Treatment Options for PTSD

Trauma-informed care approaches treatment with a focus on trauma. This may look different from patient to patient, but the idea is that providers understand the nature of trauma and take that into account during treatment.

Trauma-specialized rehabs also offer trauma-specific therapies, which are very effective for PTSD.3 These therapies center the patient’s attention on the memory or meaning of the traumatic event, and may use visualization, talking, or thinking to help you work through the experience.

Exposure therapy, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and cognitive processing therapy are the most popular treatment options for PTSD. However, there are several other options, and your treatment provider can help you choose which will work the best for you.

Prolonged Exposure (PE)

During PE, patients learn to face uncomfortable feelings in order to gain control over their experience. Patients will discuss any traumatic experiences with a counselor, as well as participate in events they’ve avoided related to the event. This treatment is highly effective for PTSD4 according to research—one meta analysis found that 41-95% of people who participated in PE no longer had PTSD symptoms by the end of treatment. Another study discovered that PTSD symptoms significantly lessened in people who had PE during treatment, as compared to supportive counseling, relaxation training, medication, and “treatment as usual.” Because PE can provoke feelings of anxiety, you should only do it with a trained professional.

Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

EDMR has the patient think about the traumatic experience while performing lateral eye movements,5 usually by following a light or the therapist’s finger. This helps move traumatic memories into long-term storage, so that when they’re brought up, patients are less activated. The goal of EMDR is to minimize the vividness and emotion that results from these thoughts.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT teaches patients to challenge and change their negative thoughts surrounding the traumatic event through talk therapy and writing assignments. CPT treatment shows a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms4 in several different samples of veterans, sexual assault survivors, and others with PTSD. These statistics remained similar during 5 and 10-year follow ups.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

In CBT, patients reframe their thoughts and feelings from negative to more positive, and learn healthy coping skills and strategies to manage them in the future. One study determined that PTSD patients using CBT in their treatment plan4 worked better than supportive therapy or self-help booklets.

Written Narrative Exposure (WNE)

Patients write about the trauma they’ve experienced and discuss it with a therapist afterwards.

Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy (BEP)

This approach helps the patient adjust negative emotions to help relieve them of shame and guilt. In addition to talk therapy, patients may learn relaxation skills, write about their traumatic experience, and even work through a ritual to help them leave the traumatic event in the past and start over.

Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)

Patients craft a story consisting of stressful events that occurred in their lives. This therapy is often used with people who experienced war, conflict, or violence.

Medications

Antidepressant medications known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) help patients experiencing PTSD. There are 4 prescribed medications commonly used for PTSD:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)

Potential Causes of PTSD

Not everyone is affected by trauma in the same way. For example, 2 people can have the same experience, but one may develop PTSD while the other doesn’t.

People can develop PTSD from many different stressful situations or events. Combat veterans and survivors of sexual trauma and intimate partner violence may be more likely to develop PTSD. People that have witnessed or been in a serious accident or catastrophic event may find themselves feeling differently afterwards, and be unable to process what happened to them.

While your experience is unique, remember that other people have gone through similar situations. You may find support by surrounding yourself with others who share your experience, and finding a rehab with a specialized PTSD program can help you connect with them in treatment.

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Trauma is strongly correlated with drug and alcohol addiction.6 People who experienced traumatic events in their lifetimes are more likely to use drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with the negative thoughts and feelings that arise from the experience. And unfortunately, substance abuse only worsens the problem.

Some studies found that the relationship between substance use and PTSD7 was significantly high in adolescents. Additionally, experiencing trauma in adolescence can heighten your stress response. This trauma can elevate plasma cortisol levels, making it more likely that they may develop PTSD and other conditions.

However, substance use can actually make the effects of PTSD much worse. It can increase emotional numbing, depression, anxiety, and more. If you have both a substance use disorder and PTSD, you may want to find a rehab that specializes in co-occurring disorders.

How PTSD Can Affect Your Life and Relationships

Some people with PTSD struggle with family and friendships,8 even if they had trusting relationships in the past. People may avoid closeness with others to avoid negative feelings, or being reminded of the event by someone who was present at the time. Close relationships may feel downright dangerous, as many trauma survivors feel a need to be on guard. On the contrary, people may also go in the opposite direction and lean heavily on their loved ones.

If you’re going through this, don’t worry—most people are able to restore their relationships to where they were before the trauma occurred. And whether you’re avoiding closeness or depending on others too much, the right treatment can help you learn to mitigate these situations in a healthy way so you can feel more at ease with your loved ones. It may even be helpful to attend therapy with one of these people, and to consider marital or family counseling.

The Differences Between PTSD and CPTSD

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD)9 is similar to PTSD, with some slight differences. CPTSD might arise from exposure to repeated traumatic events over a longer duration of time, such as survivors of childhood or sexual abuse, or veterans that were deployed on active duty for longer periods of time.

According to Dr. Judith Herman of Harvard University, CPTSD symptoms include the following:

  • Behavioral issues
  • Emotional suffering
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Somatization (physical reactions to stress)

While CPTSD isn’t yet officially recognized, many clinicians treat it as a serious condition. Other disorders also often occur alongside CPTSD, such as addiction, dissociation, borderline personality disorder, and sleep problems. Fortunately, the treatments for CPTSD also help treat these issues.

Empower Yourself to Move Past Your Trauma

Although PTSD can feel debilitating at times, you can move forward with your recovery. Be gentle with yourself as you focus on healing. This isn’t the time to push yourself too hard—instead, try to remember how far you’ve come.

Dealing with past trauma isn’t easy. You’ll have good days and bad days, and that’s completely normal. The right treatment can help you develop the skills and coping strategies to manage the bad ones in a healthy, positive way.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help–it’ll be there when you need it.

To learn more about treatment options and see information on pricing, insurance, special programs, and more, see our directory of centers offering PTSD treatment near you.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

 

  1. Ptsd basics – ptsd: National center for ptsd. (n.d.). [General Information]. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/ptsd_basics.asp []
  2. How common is ptsd in adults? – Ptsd: national center for ptsd. (n.d.). [General Information]. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp []
  3. Ptsd treatment basics – ptsd: National center for ptsd. (n.d.). [General Information]. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/tx_basics.asp []
  4. Watkins, L. E., Sprang, K. R., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2018). Treating ptsd: A review of evidence-based psychotherapy interventions. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12, 258. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00258 [] [] []
  5. van den Hout, M. A., & Engelhard, I. M. (2012). How does EMDR work? Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 3(5), 724–738. https://doi.org/10.5127/jep.028212 []
  6. International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems. [Pamphlet]. https://istss.org/ISTSS_Main/media/Documents/ISTSS_TraumaStressandSubstanceAbuseProb_English_FNL.pdf []
  7. Khoury, L., Tang, Y. L., Bradley, B., Cubells, J. F., & Ressler, K. J. (2010). Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population. Depression and Anxiety, 27(12), 1077–1086. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.20751 []
  8. Relationships – ptsd: National center for ptsd. (n.d.). [General Information]. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/family/effect_relationships.asp []
  9. Complex ptsd – ptsd: National center for ptsd. (n.d.). [General Information]. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/complex_ptsd.asp#subone []

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