- What is PTSD?
PTSD can develop after experiencing, witnessing, or in some cases learning about a traumatic event (e.g., car accident, natural disaster, physical assault, sexual abuse, psychological maltreatment, terrorist attack, or war). When an individual experiences a real threat, his/her brain sends an alarm for the body to react. PTSD occurs when an individual’s alarm is stuck in the “on” position even once the threat is over. To meet criteria, the individual must be: re-experiencing the event (e.g., through intrusive thoughts or flashbacks); avoiding reminders of the event; persistently experiencing negative thoughts and mood; and experiencing alterations in arousal and reactivity (e.g., having difficulty sleeping, having difficulty concentrating, feeling irritable, demonstrating aggressive behavior, and/or demonstrating reckless/self-destructive behavior). For a diagnosis, symptoms must persist for more than 1 month and must cause significant distress in important areas of functioning. It should be noted that there are two additional subtypes for those under 6 years of age and those with prominent dissociative symptoms (i.e., feeling detached from one’s own body/mind or experiences).
- If an individual has been exposed to the same trauma multiple times or multiple traumatic events, he/she may experience increased difficulty with: attachment and relationships; physical heath; tolerating extreme emotions; impulsivity; dissociation or “spacing out;” thought disturbances, inattention, and learning; and self-perception. He or she may struggle with his/her own purpose and meaning in life as well as an altered worldview that makes it difficult to trust others and see a promising future. Youth experiencing these difficulties are often labeled as “defiant” or “oppositional” because their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are not viewed within the appropriate context. It should be noted that many professionals classify individuals with this symptomotology as having “Complex PTSD.”
- How can PTSD be treated?
At present, there is the most evidence supporting the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in treating those with PTSD. Many evidence-based CBT models (e.g., TF-CBT, AF-CBT, and Prolonged Exposure) focus on the therapist providing psychoeducation around trauma and trauma symptoms, teaching adaptive coping skills so the individual can cope with anxiety provoking thoughts/feelings, gradually helping the individual confront his/her trauma history, and processing and challenging maladaptive thoughts and feelings as necessary.