PTSD: When Is It Time To See a Therapist?


The National Mental Health Institute has estimated that 77 million Americans are currently suffering from some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While many people associate this affliction with military members, it can be attributed to any traumatic situation.

PTSD is also prevalent in victims of violent crime such as rape or kidnapping, in physical and/or sexual abuse victims, among children who observe domestic violence, accident victims, those who survived a bad car accident, and people who experience loss as a result of a natural disaster. It occurs when the body’s natural fight or flight response to danger is triggered in seemingly normal situations, brought on by a severely stressful situation. 

Recognizing signs of PTSD

Since not everyone who goes through a trauma will experience PTSD and the symptoms can mimic other disorders, many people may not be aware of what they are experiencing. According to Web Psychology, “Signs of PTSD may include re-experiencing the event through flashbacks and nightmares, avoidance of places or events that may be triggers, and a tendency to be easily startled or frequently feeling on the edge. In addition, PTSD may cause feelings of  guilt, anger, or depression, substance abuse, tension, and difficulty sleeping or disrupted sleep patterns.” If you suspect that you may be experiencing PTSD, seeking treatment can go a long way toward helping you manage your symptoms and stop experiencing them altogether. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

One of the most effective treatments involves Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is defined by the National Alliance of Mental Illness as, “[a focus] on exploring relationships among a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. During CBT a therapist will actively work with a person to uncover unhealthy patterns of thought and how they may be causing self-destructive behaviors and beliefs.” The reason this type of therapy tends to work so well is that it helps a person recognize when their physical symptoms are being caused by the disorder. Recognizing this is important, because then you can start to disconnect from your physical symptoms or at least react to them in a positive manner. Working with a therapist that specializes in PTSD can help you to disconnect feelings from trauma and reset your natural fight or flight reflexes. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Another psychotherapy treatment that has been shown to work with PTSD patients is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). With this type of therapy, patients work with a trained therapist to relive the trauma while utilizing eye movements and other cognitive triggers to “reset” the trauma and disconnect the negative bodily reactions that occur when the brain relives the trauma. While this therapy tends to work well, it is important to work with a trained therapist to ensure that you are doing it correctly. These therapists should also be trained to help patients who experience traumatic reactions during the treatment. 

Importance of treatment

Many people are treated for PTSD with a combination of medications, including anti-anxiety drugs and others that are commonly used to treat mental illnesses, as well as some sort of behavioral therapy. Regardless of the treatment method you choose, it is important to start early. If left untreated, PTSD can gradually worsen and can cause other negative impacts to one’s life. Some people with untreated PTSD end up abusing drugs or alcohol, others develop severe depression which can lead to suicide, and others still end up with anger management problems that carry over into their personal and professional lives. More importantly, treating PTSD means that you no longer have to live with the symptoms. Living through any type of trauma is difficult enough, and there is no reason to suffer through it over and over again if you don’t have to. Now that mental health professionals recognize the symptoms of PTSD, it is easier to diagnose and treat it early.

If you suspect that you are affected by PTSD, seek professional help.