PTSD Awareness is highlighted annually in the month of June but for those suffering, PTSD is a continuous struggle 365 days of the year. As psychologists specializing in the treatment of PTSD, we see the devastating impact that this psychological disorder can have on sufferers and their families.
What is PTSD?
When people experience traumatic events that they perceive as being threatening to their own lives or the lives of others a number of psychological symptoms may emerge. While for most, these psychological symptoms will gradually decrease in the days and weeks following a traumatic incident, for others, the symptoms persist with no signs of abating and may develop into Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD involves a complex interplay of symptoms that is often experienced with a level of intensity and frequency that leaves the sufferer feeling unable to cope. The symptoms of PTSD can include, but are not limited to:
- Intrusive memories of the traumatic event that come into your mind throughout the day
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased jumpiness or heightened startle response
- Being more watchful of your surroundings
- Feeling like the world is no longer a safe place
- No longer doing activities that you did before the event
- Feelings of blame or guilt regarding the event
- Feeling angry, irritable, or quick-tempered
- Reacting to things that never used to bother you before the event
Who does PTSD affect?
No one is immune to developing PTSD because we are all at risk of experiencing traumatic events such as sexual assaults, physical assaults, robberies, unexpected deaths of loved ones, and motor vehicle accidents. In fact, 1 in every 8 people in Canada will develop PTSD over the course of their lifetime(1).
Experiencing acts of war make people particularly vulnerable to developing PTSD. As reported by Veterans Affairs Canada, 10% of veterans who have been in war zones will develop PTSD(2) and many others will have at least some of the traumatic stress symptoms listed above.
First Responders, including Emergency Medical Services, Police, Corrections, and Firefighters are also at high risk for developing PTSD as, not unlike Veterans, they are exposed to human suffering repeatedly throughout their careers and, at times, also find themselves in dangerous or high-risk situations. For Paramedics, the prevalence rate of PTSD is as high as 25%(3).
How can PTSD be treated?
There are several evidence-based practices for the treatment of trauma, one of which we use regularly in our work with clients, Prolonged Exposure Therapy. Prolonged Exposure is a treatment that was developed in the United States for Veterans who returned from war with symptoms of traumatic stress. It is a four-pronged approach that includes the following:
- Education about your symptoms in the context of what you experienced
- Relaxation training
- Real world practice that involves approaching situations that are actually safe but that you have been avoiding since the incident
- Talking through the trauma to gain control of your emotions and thoughts
While confronting things that you have been avoiding and talking through the trauma may sound daunting and difficult, it is done within the safety of a supportive, gentle, and understanding therapeutic relationship. Our goal for all clients experiencing trauma is to help them to get back to living life once more.