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Rocks on Coast

Understanding Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

What is Trauma?

In daily life, people use the word trauma to describe a wide range of upsetting or difficult situations. For example, it is not uncommon to describe divorce, loss of a job, or the death of a loved one from natural causes as traumatic. While these events are certainly life-changing, they are different than what is meant by trauma in PTSD.

Traumatic events in the context of PTSD are events that include actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Many experiences can result in this kind of trauma; examples of these types of traumatic events include:

  • Rape, molestation, or other sexual assault

  • Physical assault, including domestic violence

  • Combat or living in a war zone

  • A serious accident or fire

  • A natural disaster, such as a earthquake or flood

  • Having a loved one die from homicide or suicide

These types of traumatic events aren't necessarily more upsetting or disrupting to your life than other stressful events. However, Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) has only been studied and shown to work with PTSD following these types of trauma. You will work with Dr. Kehle-Forbes during the Initial Phone Consultation to determine if it is recommended to treat your past stressful events using PE.

What is PTSD?

Most people experience at least one trauma during their lives. Afterwards, it is common to feel on-edge,  have upsetting memories, or have difficulty sleeping. This stress may make life difficult, but most people start to feel better without treatment within a few weeks or months. If you continue to feel this way more than a few months after a trauma, you may have PTSD.

There are four types of PTSD symptoms. Everyone experiences symptoms and PTSD in their own way, but people with PTSD relive their trauma, avoid reminders of their trauma, have more negative thoughts and feelings as a result of their trauma, and feel keyed up or on edge. 

Reliving the Trauma. Upsetting memories of the trauma occur on a regular basis. This can include:

  • Nightmares

  • Unwanted memories that seem to come out of nowhere

  • Flashbacks

  • Upsetting memories after encountering a trigger, or trauma reminder, in your environment  

Avoiding Reminders of the Trauma. Because the memories are painful it is common to avoid thoughts, feelings or situations that remind you of the trauma. This can include:

  • Staying very busy, distracting yourself, or pushing thoughts of the trauma out of your mind

  • Using alcohol or other drugs to avoid thoughts or feelings related to the trauma

  • Avoiding people or situations that trigger trauma memories. What people avoid is very individualized, but may include things like crowds, driving, watching violent movies, being alone with others, or certain places or people that remind you of your trauma

Negative Thoughts & Feelings. Living through a trauma often changes the way you feel about yourself, others, and the world in general. You may have more negative thoughts and feelings than you did before the trauma. This can include:

  • Thinking something is wrong with you, that no one can be trusted, or that the world is completely dangerous

  • Feeling guilt, shame, anger, fear, anxiety, or sadness

  • Blaming yourself for what happened

  • Difficulty experiencing positive feelings or not enjoying the things you used to

Feeling on edge or keyed-up. After a trauma, it is common to be on the lookout for danger, feel irritable or be jittery. This can lead to:

  • Disrupted sleep

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Always being watchful or on-guard

  • Having angry outbursts

  • Being startled easily

Your first appointment with Dr. Kehle-Forbes will include a thorough assessment of your symptoms of PTSD in order to determine whether PE is the right treatment for you.

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