Just about everyone knows that veterans who have been in combat can develop PTSD. But being in a war zone is not the only way a person can be exposed to circumstances that can lead to PTSD. In fact, many events can lead to PTSD. Any event that you experience or witness that could, or you believed could, lead to death, serious injury or sexual violation may result in PTSD. So you can develop PTSD after an attempted rape, after a car accident, or after waking up during a surgery. In fact, most any situation where you fear that you may die or be seriously harmed. Now here's an important idea to remember: It's NOT about if you are in actual risk of death or harm! It is about your perception of risk. That is why an almost car accident might lead to PTSD. It is also why events experienced as a child or adolescent, that you think "weren't that bad" can lead to PTSD. A child or youth has more limited resources, experiences and skills to manage an upsetting experience.
PTSD is not a life sentence. It is possible to treat PTSD. There are many methods of treatment for PTSD. I use EMDR.
Just revisiting the awful memories is not enough to heal PTSD (If it was everyone could heal PTSD on their own; because people with PTSD are constantly revisiting their bad memories). You must revisit the memories while your body is not in a danger response mode (Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn). Being able to touch the memory without being overwhelmed by it is vital to effective therapy. Often when people say “therapy (or EMDR) doesn't work for me” it is because their bodies were in danger response mode while in the treatment session. This will make the treatment ineffective.
The first step to treating PTSD is symptom management. If we work together, I will first help you learn the skills that will help you take your life back from overwhelming stress, horrible memories, and debilitating anxiety. Once you have all the skills and tools you need to manage your symptoms; we will start healing the events at the root of your PTSD. We will work at the pace that you choose. We can take tiny steps until you feel ready to take bigger ones. We can start around the edges until you choose to work closer the core. Empowering you through this process is an important part of the process (often times the events that led to the PTSD were ones where the person was powerless) and is central to how I work.
Why do some people develop PTSD while others don't?
If experiencing an event that you perceive as threatening death, serious injury, or sexual violation was a guarantee of PTSD, a majority of people would have PTSD. After all, most people have thought they were going to be seriously harmed or might die at least once in their life. I dumped my bike in front of a car when I was a teen. The car stopped in time but as the bike went down and I looked at that car, I thought I was dead. So why don't we all have PTSD? Research has found that there are factors that either increase or decrease the likelihood that your experience might lead to PTSD.
Protective factors against PTSD
- Having supportive family or friends around you that you seek support from.
- Joining a support group or seeing a therapist so you can process the experience.
- Having agency. This means that during the event you are able to act in some way to try to impact the event.
- Having skills that help you manage your emotional experience and process through the events.
- Being accepting of how you responded during the incident. If you can become compassionate for how you handled yourself you are less likely to develop PTSD.
Risk factors for PTSD
- Having been through other traumatic events. You are more likely to develop PTSD if you've been exposed to other events that could lead to PTSD.
- If you are hurt or see someone else hurt or killed during the event.
- If you are a child when it happens
- If you are not supported by helpful and caring friends, family, or society afterwards.
- Being helpless or emotionally overwhelmed during the event
- If it doesn't end when it's over... When the repercussions keep you in emotional distress (such as loosing your home or a loved one)
- Previous mental health or addiction struggles