Trauma and PTSD

Trauma & PTSD

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that can crop up in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic incident. These types of trauma-induced experiences can include: a natural calamity, a severe accident, a terrorist act, molestation or other violent personal assault.

Treatment and How to Get Help

  • There are many ways to treat PTSD
  • Self-help can make it easier to cope.
  • Prescribed medication can give temporary relief to complex PTSD symptoms, but does not cure the cause of it.

Painful memories take time to wither away on their own. Treatment comes in a variety of forms, and even the best methods won't eliminate all of the effects of post-traumatic stress. However, treatment can help prevent the thoughts and feelings which, as a side effect of PTSD, often affect living the best and healthiest life possible. Resilience is likely attainable, with the right treatment.

PTSD treatments work to achieve the same goal to putting traumatic memories in their proper place. These memories are termed "dissociated" implying that they are cut off from "associated" mental content, or long-term memory. Cutting off these PTSD related memories can prevent the reliving of them over and over again, as if they are still occurring.

Although PTSD treatment center around thoughts and feelings, symptoms can affect the body too. Despite the treatment, you might still physically feel the "fight or flight" response. Your body might reject the calm your mind needs to manage unpleasant thoughts. Relaxation therapy, meditation, and yoga can be very restorative. Prescribed medications only treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms and do not get to the root of the issue.

PTSD in children

Children and adolescents enduring PTSD undergo extreme emotional, psychic, and physical discomfort when exposed to circumstances or situations making them recall past traumatic situation. Some may regularly re-live the shock in the form of nightmares and frightening memories during the day time.

The initial PTSD symptoms in children and PTSD symptoms in teens:

  • Disturbed sleeping pattern
  • Depression
  • Feeling tense or "on guard"
  • Being easily frightened
  • Detachment
  • Feeling numb
  • Struggle to feel affectionate
  • More aggressive or violent than before
  • Flashbacks
  • Losing a sense of reality
  • Regressive behaviors
  • Difficulty in concentrating

Here is a toolbox of the most widely used treatments:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

A psycho-social intervention that intends to improve mental health is the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy definition. CBT can help a patient change the way they think about complex trauma. In one type of cognitive therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a patient can recount their story to the therapist and he/she will look for the ways to distort its reality. People with PTSD often feel condemned or have a misconception about themselves that the event was their fault. A rape victim might blame or tell herself that it could have happened because of the way she was dressed. A soldier might say, feeling guilty, that, “I let my buddy die in combat.” In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the therapist helps a patient defy thoughts like these.

The National Center for PTSD divides CPT into four parts:

  • Learning about PTSD signs and how therapy can help.
  • Becoming conscious of feelings and thoughts.
  • Learning abilities to test your thoughts and feelings.
  • Understanding differences in beliefs that takes place after trauma.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) drugs are not a cure for PTSD, but some are useful for treating symptoms. This drug increases the level of Serotonin in the brain making you feel better. Other medications can be helpful at quieting nightmares and fostering restful sleep. The National Center for PTSD warns the people against Benzodiazepines. These anti-anxiety pills don’t treat the core PTSD signs and can also be addictive.

Prolonged exposure (PE)

PE makes you confront your fear by recalling the traumatic experience or event in as much detail as you can and reiterate your story. While going through the process, you develop the skills to relax and manage your emotions and feelings. PE makes you re-enter any safe situation that you intentionally have been avoiding. This revisiting of a safe place is called In Vivo Exposure.

The therapies listed above are credible and well established. Other methods have less of a track record but may work certain types of patients. These include family therapy and group therapy.

In addition to these treatments and seeing a trauma therapist, can you do anything on your own? The answer is yes. Here are some self-help steps (and apps) that experts suggest:

In addition to these treatments and seeing a trauma therapist, can you do anything on your own? The answer is yes. Here are some self-help steps (and apps) that experts suggest:

  • Mindfulness. Paying attention to your daily activities and how they make you feel. Accept your beliefs and feelings without assessing them. Practices like these have shown results in calming anxiety, a key part of PTSD.
  • Changing your lifestyle. Start exercising. Search out for, other trauma survivors. Many people benefit from peer-to-peer support. Stay away from drinking alcohol and using drugs. Work on your relationships. Search for a way to make something meaningful out of the trauma.
  • Joining a peer support group. These kinds of groups give you a platform to discuss your problems with the people who have experienced trauma. Communicating with peers can overcome the symptoms of PTSD and help make you feel lighter and better. It is suggested to join such groups while going through a course of PTSD treatment.

Self-help is a good idea, but it is important to get trauma therapy with or without medication as soon as possible. Studies show that early intervention has the best results.

If you are in a crisis, you should call 911 or visit a hospital emergency room. Or you may need to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) Keep in mind that you’ll want a therapist who specializes in the healing of trauma. You’ll also want one who knows the full range of options for treatment and can explain them to you so that you can make a fully informed choice.


The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Viking, 2014.

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