PTSD Awareness: How to Move Forward from Trauma
Behavioral Health Insights
By Micah Hoffman, MD, DABPN, FAPA, QME, CIME, CHCQM
AllMed Behavioral Health Medical Director
Every year, roughly 12 million American adults feel the disruptive, intensely emotional effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).1 While often associated with combat veterans, PTSD can impact anyone who has experienced or witnessed a scary, dangerous, or shocking event. Natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist acts, rape or sexual assault, gun violence, intimate partner violence and bullying—all can potentially trigger PTSD. The condition can be incapacitating, but research shows that psychotherapy—sometimes combined with medication—can mitigate symptoms, allowing trauma survivors to optimize their quality of life. PTSD Awareness Day on June 27th aims to improve understanding of PTSD symptoms and highlight the available resources and evidence-based/treatments.
Signs and Symptoms
After a trauma, it’s normal to experience a stress reaction. Such a reaction may include having upsetting memories or trouble sleeping or feeling on edge. If these symptoms persist for longer than a few months, a person may have PTSD. Notably, in the U.S., women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with PTSD, and Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans/Alaska Natives have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.2
In adults PTSD may involve nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of situations that trigger memories of the trauma, anxiety, or depression that interferes with the person’s normal life. In children, symptoms may be different. A child might think that there were signs that the trauma was going to happen and afterward be hypervigilant about looking for signs to avoid a future trauma.3 Alternatively (or in addition) symptoms in children sometimes manifest through play—for example, playing shooting games after a school shooting.
Treatment Options to Support Recovery
The good news is that effective treatment options exist. Psychotherapy (also called talk therapy) is the primary treatment. Medication may also be helpful. The most commonly used forms of psychotherapy for adults and children with PTSD include:
Cognitive Therapy – Through this type of talk therapy, individuals learn to recognize and challenge the ways of thinking related to the trauma that are keeping them traumatized. Through a series of sessions, patients learn to modify unhelpful ways of thinking and create a new conceptualization of the traumatic event to reduce its negative effects on current life. Cognitive therapy can be delivered individually or in structured group sessions. For PTSD treatment, cognitive therapy is often used with exposure therapy.
Prolonged Exposure (PE) Therapy – A flexible form of therapy, PE helps patients face situations and events that they find frightening so that they can learn to cope with them better.PE may sometimes use virtual reality programs to help a patient re-enter the setting in which they experienced trauma. Numerous well-controlled studies have shown that PE significantly reduces the symptoms of PTSD, depression, anger, and anxiety in trauma survivors, producing a clinically significant improvement in 80 percent of patients.4 As an added benefit, patients treated with PE may derive confidence and an ability to face stress with courage rather than fear.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy – EMDR, introduced in 1989, differs from other treatments in that it focuses directly on the traumatic memory rather than on the emotions, thoughts, and responses. The goal of EMDR is to change the way the memory is stored in the brain, and in so doing reduce/eliminate the PTSD symptoms. Standardized procedures incorporate the use of eye movements and other forms of rhythmic left-right (bilateral) stimulation (e.g., tones or taps) while the patient accesses the traumatic memory. When patients focus on the memory and experience bilateral stimulation at the same time, the vividness and emotion of the memory are reduced.5 The process typically is completed in one to three sessions. To date, dozens of clinical trials have shown that EMDR is effective and can help people faster than many other methods.6 Unlike other forms of therapy, EMDR offers the advantage of not requiring a patient to talk in detail about an upsetting issue.
These types of therapy represent only a sample of the effective treatments available to help those suffering with PTSD. By working closely with their mental health providers, patients can find the optimal type of therapy and medication (if appropriate) for their specific circumstances.
Help to Heal
The board-certified psychiatrists and psychologists of the AllMed Behavioral Health Review Panel have extensive experience in guiding individuals with PTSD toward regaining control over their lives. When your members need help, rely on AllMed for informed support.
In recognition of PTSD Awareness Day, June 27th, let’s work together to alert individuals, families, providers, and communities to the resources and effective treatment options available to meet the needs of those living with PTSD.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “SAMHSA Recognizes Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month.” June 27, 2022. https://www.samhsa.gov/blog/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-awareness-month. Accessed June 19, 2023.
- American Psychiatric Association. “What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?” Last updated November 2022. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd. Accessed June 19, 2023.
- “SAMHSA Recognizes Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month.”
- Perelman School of Medicine. “About Prolonged Exposure Therapy.” University of Pennsylvania. https://www.med.upenn.edu/ctsa/workshops_pet.html. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- American Psychological Association. “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.” Last updated July 31, 2017. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing. Accessed June 20, 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic. “EMDR Therapy.” Last updated March 29, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22641-emdr-therapy. Accessed June 20, 2023.