Trauma & PTSD

Trauma & PTSD

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health disorder that some people develop after experiencing, or being a witness to, a life-threatening event. Some examples are combat, a natural disaster or terrorist attack, a car accident, violence, or sexual assault.

It is expected that individuals will have troubling memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. Most people start to feel better after weeks or months. 

If it has been longer than a few months and the symptoms are still debilitating or make it very difficult to function, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may not appear until a long time after the event. For others, they may start immediately and continue over time.

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There are four main symptoms of PTSD. However each person experiences symptoms differently.

  1. Reliving the event or re-experiencing symptoms. You may have painful memories or nightmares. You may experience flashbacks (feel like you’re going through the event again).
  2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event. You may try to avoid situations or people that bring back memories of the traumatic event. You may also avoid talking or thinking about the event.
  3. Having more negative beliefs and feelings. The way you think about yourself and others may change because of the trauma. You may not be interested in activities you used to enjoy. You may feel that the world is dangerous and that other people cannot be trusted. You might feel ashamed.
  4. Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal). You may be jittery, or extra alert and on the lookout for danger. You may have trouble concentrating or sleeping. You may get angry or irritable more suddenly than you used to do, startle easily, or act in unhealthy ways (like smoking, using drugs and alcohol, or driving recklessly.

Trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most highly recommended type of treatment for PTSD. “Trauma-focused” means that the treatment focuses on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning. These treatments use different techniques to help you process your traumatic experience. Some involve visualising, talking, or thinking about the traumatic memory. Others focus on changing unhelpful beliefs about the trauma. They usually last for at least 8-16 sessions. According to the United States Veterans Association, which is a leader in research on PTSD, the trauma-focused psychotherapies with the strongest evidence are:

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  • Prolonged Exposure (PE)
    Helps you how to regain control by facing negative feelings. It requires talking about your trauma with a provider as well as doing some of the things you have avoided since the trauma.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
    Teaches you to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. It involves talking with your provider about your negative thoughts and doing short writing assignments.
  • Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
    Allows you to process and make sense of your trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone).

The United States Veterans Association also recommends the following types of trauma-focused psychotherapy for people with PTSD:

  • Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy (BEP)
    A therapy in which you practice relaxation skills, recall details of the traumatic memory, reframe negative thoughts about the trauma, write a letter about the traumatic event, and hold a farewell ritual to leave trauma in the past.
  • Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)
    Developed for people who have experienced trauma from ongoing war, conflict, and organized violence. You talk through stressful life events in order (from birth to the present day) and put them together into a story.
  • Written Narrative Exposure
    Involves writing about the trauma during sessions. Your provider gives instructions on the writing assignment, allows you to complete the writing alone, and then returns at the end of the session to briefly discuss any reactions to the writing assignment.
  • Specific cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs) for PTSD
    Include a limited number of psychotherapies shown to work for PTSD where the provider helps you learn how to change unhelpful behaviours or thoughts.

Our experts on trauma and PTSD can help. 

After PTSD treatment, many people, find that their symptoms alleviate substantially or completely. Others find they have fewer symptoms or feel that their symptoms are less intense. Your symptoms don’t have to interfere with your everyday activities, work, and relationships. Enquire at Box Tree Clinic today to begin PTSD treatment. 

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