Sometimes in life we go through experiences that overwhelm our ability to cope. Experiences might involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or witnessing harm to others, where we feel intense fear or helplessness. These might include things like car accidents, physical or sexual assault or abuse, workplace accidents, or natural disasters, for example. We refer to these at traumatic events.
About 4 out of 5 North Americans have experienced a traumatic event during their lifetime.
Fortunately, most people recover from a traumatic event. However, a small number of people go on to develop persistent psychological symptoms that cause them distress and interfere with their day-to-day functioning. About 10% of people who experience a traumatic event develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or “PTSD”?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or “PTSD”) is a psychological condition in response to a traumatic experience. Signs and symptoms include:
- Intrusive, distressing memories
- “Flashbacks” – experiencing the trauma as if it is happening in the present)
- Intense distress when faced with reminders of the trauma
- Anxious avoidance of things that remind you of the trauma
- Feeling “unreal”, or that you are out of your body or “in a movie”
- Depressed mood
- Loss of interest in things
- Angry outbursts
- Feeling constantly “keyed up” or “on edge”
- Difficulty relaxing
- Trouble paying attention
- Easily startled
Natural Recovery is Likely
Fortunately, around half of those who develop PTSD will fully recover on their own within one to two years.
When Should I Seek Help?
If you are feeling overwhelmed and are having difficulty coping, or if you experience symptoms of PTSD for 6 months or longer, or if depression is also present, speak to your doctor and ask about seeing a psychologist. We can help.
Counselling for PTSD & Trauma
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (or “CBT”) is a type of counselling that is effective in treating PTSD. CBT involves about 12-16 weekly sessions in which you learn about how your thoughts, physical symptoms, and behaviours interact in the case of PTSD. You learn skills like relaxation and “grounding” techniques to bring you back to the present. Exposure therapy, can also help you overcome your anxious avoidance of reminders of the past event. Cognitive processing therapy (“CPT”) is a specific form of CBT where you explore how trauma has impacted your way of being in various aspects of your life, including your sense of safety, trust, control, self-esteem, and intimacy. CPT teaches you a new way to handle upsetting thoughts about the trauma and new ways of thinking about your life since the trauma.
Medication, such as anti-anxiety medication or anti-depressant medication, may help with anxiety itself, as well as related problems like depression or sleep difficulties. Talk to your doctor if you’d like to learn more about medication options.
Support groups can also help. They are a place to share your own experiences and learn from others, and help you connect with people who understand what you’re going through. There may also be support groups for loved ones affected by PTSD.