post traumatic stress disorder counseling

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder counseling and trauma recovery is an important part of FreeHeart Counseling and Professional Services. PTSD is in the news and has been increasingly entering the conversations of people all over the country.  Thanks to news shows and Dr. Phil, the topic has been on the lips of people who hadn’t a clue about Post Traumatic Stress five years ago.  But with the troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the plight of veterans trying to get services at the VA making headlines, it’s understandable that people are talking about it.

Post traumatic stress is a problem not just for vets, however.  We’ve learned that trauma can happen in the home, on neighborhood streets and in disaster areas all over the world.  For some, it may seem to be the answer to questions they’ve had for years.  The thing is, though, most people are not fully informed about PTSD and what it means to the lives of those who are suffering with it, and to their families.  Additionally, some people may be diagnosing themselves inaccurately.  PTSD is a specific disorder with diagnostic criteria that must be met.  However, there are a lot of people who are suffering with stress symptoms, some of whom have experienced losses and suffering that seem to go on without end. Trauma can happen to anyone. What about those people who may not have PTSD, but who are certainly experiencing something?

Do I Have PTSD? And if I Do, What Should I Do About It?

Do you wonder if you have PTSD ? Do you have symptoms you can’t explain that make you think you must have something?  If you are like most people when they experience what they can’t explain, you’d probably give a lot to know what’s wrong with you.  Just having a name for it would be a tremendous relief, right?

For some reason, being able to name the condition, the illness, the unexplainable, is a huge relief.  It means your perceptions are correct—that there really is something wrong, that you aren’t crazy even though you were beginning to have your doubts.  It is a very human need, to want to put a name to the mystery that’s happening to you.

But why this name?  Why do you think you have PTSD?  I have some thoughts on that question.

Increasingly the news is carrying stories about returning military personnel who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety disorder that sometimes arises from traumatic experiences on the battlefield.  You also might have heard that PTSD can occur from experiencing a disaster, natural or otherwise (think Hurricane Sandy and 9/11).  Some experts believe PTSD may also occur in response to severe childhood abuse or from other extremely stressful life events such as the sudden death of a loved one, rape, or other violent crime.  Some experts say that post traumatic stress can occur from chronic, longterm stresses when the person feels helpless to do anything to avoid it (think famine, living in a violent, inner city neighborhood, or serving hard time).  This is the aspect of PTSD, I believe, that most people (civilians, that is) are relating to when they wonder if they have it.

What Is PTSD?

I wanted to let you know what PTSD really is, who has it and who doesn’t, and why it is a term that should not be finding its way into common parlance.

What I mean by that requires an example, so think of the word ‘addiction.’  There is a huge difference in the experience of being ‘addicted’ to a favorite TV program versus being addicted to heroin or to alcohol.  Likewise, there is a huge difference between someone who thinks he or she has PTSD due to a difficult life event and someone who has been diagnosed with the disorder due to battlefield trauma, or because of the loss of his or her entire family or community due to a natural disaster.

This is not to say that someone who thinks he or she has PTSD doesn’t really have it.  Not at all.  But learning whether the disorder is present is a matter for a professional, for more than the obvious reasons, as I’ll tell you about in a moment.

PTSD and PTSD Therapy

PTSD is an actual mental illness diagnosis.  It is a very serious diagnosis.  Those who have this disorder have terrible symptoms that can disrupt their lives, interfere with relationships and social interactions, take away the ability to work, to sleep, interfere with the functioning of a person’s memory—even the ability to reason.  In past times, the symptoms now recognized as PTSD were given other names.  In World War I, men were “shell shocked,” in World War II they had “battle fatigue.”  It wasn’t until long after the end of the Viet Nam war that PTSD was identified for what it truly was: a severe anxiety disorder that could result when someone was faced with a life and death situation they had no control over.

There are still things about the disorder that are not understood.  Not everyone who experiences or witnesses a life-threatening event ends up getting PTSD, and we don’t know why.  Because we don’t know what happens in the brain when a person has PTSD, there is still no definitive understanding of why one person gets PTSD and the next one doesn’t.

Secondly, to actually be diagnosed with the condition, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a person has to have a certain number of symptoms from a lengthy checklist.  Foremost, the person had to have believed his or her life was threatened by a particular event, or had to have witnessed the same happen to someone else.  But there are a few more symptoms a person has to have in order to be considered to have the actual disorder.  And the symptoms are gruesome.

Just to give you an idea of what we are talking about, here are some of them:

  • Flashbacks, where the person believes for a moment or longer that he or she truly is back in the life and death situation and living it all over again in vivid detail;
  • Uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event that the person just can’t get out of his or her head;
  • An increased startle response to a noise or movement where he or she jumps and reaches for his or her weapon (which is no longer there in most cases) such as when a car backfires;
  • Also anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, suspicion and paranoia that he or she can’t seem to help.
  • And we must include the episodes of rage, poor frustration tolerance, feelings of being totally alone and isolated;
  • The person doesn’t know how to explain any of this to loved ones, which in turn leads to depression and sometimes to suicidal thoughts and gestures.

To round out this unholy collection of symptoms, he or she is probably drinking to excess or using drugs to get some relief from the symptoms.  Loved ones turn themselves into pretzels trying to help and yet have no clue about what to do with the sufferer.  The person with PTSD not only has a raft of symptoms to deal with, but he or she keeps screwing up at work, if he’s managed to get a job, and at home.  And on it goes until either there is help or the person gives up in one way or another.  It is a grim and chaotic picture, isn’t it?

This is a descriptive list but it is not the definitive symptom list, so don’t hang out your shingle just yet, and please don’t diagnose yourself from just this description.  I just wanted to give you a general idea of what we were dealing with here.

Perhaps you can see why this disorder is a really big deal to those who have it, and to their families.  In my opinion, when people use the term “PTSD” loosely, without really knowing the full extent of the disorder, they fail to appreciate the huge effort it takes for a person to live day-to-day with this disorder.

Having said all that, let me just add that I know there are people out there who have undiagnosed PTSD.  You bet I do.  There are lots of them.  In fact, if you have seen yourself in the above description, please get some help. There are things you can do to alleviate a lot of the symptoms, whether you have the actual disorder or not.  I’ll give some resources at the end of this article.  And, of course, you can call me at 415-710-6615 and we can talk about what you might need.

There are a number of treatment methods that are currently used for the treatment of PTSD and for Acute Stress and Post Traumatic Stress.  The names might not mean anything to you, but just for your information they include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), PTSD Cognitive Therapy, also known as Cognitive Processing Therapy, Brainspotting, and Guided Imagery, just to name some of the more popular methods.  More than one kind of treatment is needed because what works for one person might not work for another.  Again, we don’t know what happens in the brain when someone gets PTSD, so we can only treat someone by seeing what works.

Here is an important aside: If you are a vet, or in active or reserve service in any branch, whether or not you have seen combat, this entreaty goes double for you.  They trained you to be stoic, but stoic doesn’t help the symptoms of PTSD—in fact, stoic may make it worse.  Get some help from a professional who knows about this stuff.  And if you run into roadblocks in your efforts to get help, don’t give up, just look in the next place.  It’s really important.  There is help for your symptoms.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Counseling for Veterans

I do a percentage of my trauma recovery work pro bono for vets and service members who are having trouble getting the treatment they need.  Unfortunately, I’m just me, one person, so that part of my post traumatic stress disorder counseling practice is often full, but you are welcome to inquire.

NOTE: If you are a licensed mental health professional you, too, can volunteer even for as little as one hour per week in programs like Give An Hour, Coming Home and Swords to Plowshares and others.

Post Traumatic Stress, Not the Disorder

There are also a lot of people out there who have what is called “post traumatic stress.”  This is the condition in which a person has some of the symptoms of PTSD but not enough of them to be diagnosed with the actual disorder.

For many of these people, their symptoms have become a routine, however unwelcome, part of their lives.  People who have post-traumatic stress symptoms may have had them for years, and may be able to carry on with work, life, relationships and family.

Or they may not.  It is almost certain that the quality of life has suffered greatly due to having to cope with post-traumatic stress symptoms. And there’s that thing I mentioned in the beginning—knowing something is wrong with you but not having a name for it, and how that can make you feel like you’re either imagining things or you really are crazy.

Let me tell you what I know for sure. What I know is your symptoms are real and you are not “crazy” for having them.  What I know is that just because your suffering doesn’t meet the correct number of symptoms on a checklist, that doesn’t mean the suffering is any less real.  As it happens, the methods for dealing with post-traumatic stress are the same or nearly the same as for PTSD.  Makes sense, right?  Which means there is help.  There is reason for you to have a lot of hope.

First things first, though—you need to check in with a professional about the symptoms, thoughts, feelings or behaviors that concern you, and then together you can decide what’s to be done about it.  You are welcome to call me at FreeHeart Counseling 415-710-6615 and we can talk briefly to see if my services are what you need right now.  If yes, then we can make an appointment to discuss things in more detail.  If not, I can give you a referral to another professional if you like, or you can check out the resources listed below.  Please don’t keep suffering alone and in silence.  There are no brownie points for doing that.

Whether you are concerned about possible PTSD symptoms for yourself or for a loved one, help is available.  There are treatment approaches that have been shown to work for others in a wide variety of situations, so there is reason for hope.

Everyone deserves to have a heart free of pain and despair, a heart that is free to experience a happy and satisfying life.  That’s why I started FreeHeart Counseling.

As always, if you feel you are in an emergency situation right now, that means you need help right now.  If that is true for you, don’t call my number—instead call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.   If you feel you just need to talk to a kind human right this minute, call the national 24/7 crisis line at 1-800-273-SAFE (8255).