Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder characterized by persistent physical, psychological and emotional symptoms following the experience of a traumatic event (e.g., war combat, sudden loss of a loved one, sexual or physical assault, rape, car accident or injury). People with PTSD can directly or indirectly experience a traumatic event when there is actual or perceived threat of serious injury, death or sexual violence. Regardless of the trigger, the individual who develops PTSD experiences clinically significant distress or impairment in his or her social, occupational and other important areas of functioning that persist for longer than one month.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health (DSM-V) specifies four symptom clusters for the diagnostic criteria of PTSD in addition to the exposure of actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence:
- Intrusive symptoms
- Distressing memories or dreams
- Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks)
- Psychological distress or physiological reactions after exposure to internal or external cues that are reminders of an aspect of the traumatic event(s)
- Avoidance symptoms
- Avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts or feelings associated with the traumatic event
- Avoidance of external reminders (i.e., people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations) that trigger distressing memories, thoughts or feelings associated with the traumatic event(s)
- Negative changes in mood and thinking
- Difficulty remembering an important part of the traumatic event (i.e., dissociative amnesia)
- Negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others or the world
- Distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of a traumatic event that leads to blaming self or others
- Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame)
- Decreased interest in activities
- Feeling detached or estranged (alienated) from others
- Inability to experience positive emotions such as happiness
- Arousal and reactivity symptoms
- Irritable behavior and angry outbursts with little or no provocation
- Reckless or self-destructive behavior
- Hypervigilance (i.e., increased arousal and responsiveness to stimuli)
- Heightened or exaggerated startle response
- Concentration problems
- Sleep disturbances
Patients with PTSD may experience dissociative symptoms such as depersonalization, or feelings of detachment from mental processes or the body as if living in a dream, and derealization, or feelings of unreality of their surroundings where the world is experienced as distant, distorted or dreamlike.
Causes of PTSD
It remains unclear why some people who experience traumatic events develop PTSD while others are more resilient and do not. Early exposure to a traumatic event such as childhood trauma can lead to brain changes that affect the development of personality and cognition and social factors (e.g., optimism; tendency to view challenges in a positive or negative way; availability and use of social support), which can influence the way people adjust to and deal with a traumatic event.
Women appear to be more likely to develop PTSD due to hormonal fluctuations in women as well as higher levels of pituitary hormone, adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP). Research on the possible risk factors provides evidence for the role of genetics in the development of PTSD. Genetic factors appear to play a role in the emotional fear response and formation of traumatic memories following the exposure to a fearful experience.
In studying parts of the brain associated with fear and stress, researchers have found PTSD to be associated with brain structures such as the amygdala (responsible for emotion, learning and memory) and the prefrontal cortex (involved in tasks such as decision-making, problem-solving and judgment). While the prefrontal cortex stores extinction memories and dampens the fear response, the amygdala appears to be active during learning to fear an event (fear acquisition) and in the early stages of learning not to fear something (fear extinction).
Sovereign Health of Florida
Sovereign Health of Florida provides behavioral treatment for patients with mental disorders such as PTSD, as well as substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. Our patients receive a thorough medical, psychiatric and biopsychosocial evaluation during the admissions process to ensure that they are properly diagnosed with any underlying or co-occurring conditions as well as their primary condition and to create a comprehensive and individualized treatment plans to meet their specific needs.
Patients receive individual psychotherapy, group therapy, family therapy and psychoeducational groups, which teach them effective skills they may use to improve their emotional, psychological and social well-being. Patients also receive evidence-based therapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for the treatment of PTSD, which teaches patients how to recognize and challenge negative thinking patterns and behaviors through cognitive restructuring and behavioral techniques.
Biofeedback is used to teach patients how to control their physiological responses to stress (e.g., heart rate and breathing). Patients also receive cognitive training and testing through our brain wellness program to increase neuroplasticity in the brain and improve cognitive functioning. Cognitive training targets neural system functioning and cognitive processes that play a role in emotion regulation, symptoms and adaptive functioning, which can be especially useful for patients diagnosed with PTSD.
Sovereign Health of Florida also incorporates experiential and mind-body therapies into our programs, including mindfulness, meditation and yoga and equine therapy to improve patients’ physical and mental well-being. Equine therapy, in particular, is a form of experiential therapy that helps to improve patients’ self-confidence, problem-solving, communication, trust, social skills and impulse control.
For more information about our treatment programs available for PTSD, please call our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.