PTSD occurs when someone has been exposed to a traumatic event or series of events that cause them severe distress. PTSD can affect people of any age, ethnicity, culture, or nationality. Individuals who are diagnosed with PTSD will experience symptoms that persist for months or even years after the traumatic event. They may experience flashbacks, nightmares, disturbing thoughts, avoidance behaviours and concentration difficulties, in addition to feeling more fearful and reactive.
Everyone reacts to traumatic events differently. Each person is unique in his/her ability to manage fear, stress and the threat posed by a traumatic event or situation. For that reason, not everyone who has a trauma will develop PTSD. Also, the type of help and support a person receives from friends, family members and professionals following the trauma may impact the development of PTSD or the severity of symptoms. It is impossible to go back in time and change events but many have been able to heal with the support of therapeutic intervention.
Psychotherapy for PTSD involves helping the person learn skills to manage symptoms and develop ways of coping. Therapy also aims to teach the person and their family about the disorder and help the person work through the fears associated with the traumatic event. A variety of psychotherapy approaches are used to treat people with PTSD, including:
Cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves learning to recognize and change thought patterns that lead to troublesome emotions, feelings and behavior.
Prolonged exposure therapy, a type of behavioral therapy that involves having the person relive the traumatic event or exposing the person to objects or situations that cause anxiety. Prolonged exposure therapy helps the person confront the fear and gradually become more comfortable with situations that are frightening and cause anxiety. This has been very successful at treating PTSD.
Family therapy may be useful because the behavior of a person with PTSD can have an affect on other family members.