Understanding PTSD: Diagnosis and Symptoms

PTSD or Post-traumatic stress disorder can be triggered when someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event such as an accident, assault, natural disaster, or combat. This mental health disorder affects 3.6% of the U.S. adult population, with about 37% of those diagnosed being classified as having severe symptoms, and often co-occurs with other disorders such as substance use disorder, anxiety, and depression.  

 Someone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event may experience a variety of symptoms for several days. For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last for more than a month and cause issues in daily functioning. People who have experienced a traumatic event often experience symptoms within three months, but for some, they may develop later.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the symptoms of PTSD typically fall into four categories.

  • Intrusion: Repeated, involuntary memories; nightmares, or flashbacks of the traumatic event are known as intrusive thoughts. Sometimes the images can be vivid and cause the person to feel as if they are re-living the event.
  • Avoidance: Reminders of the event, such as people, places, activities, objects, and situations can serve as triggers of the traumatic event. Individuals may try to avoid these to help from remembering or thinking about the traumatic event. Additionally, they may resist talking about what happened or how they feel about it.
  • Alterations in cognition and mood: Individuals with PTSD may not be able to remember important aspects of the traumatic experience.  Additionally, they may have negative thoughts and feelings that can lead to ongoing and distorted beliefs about themselves or others, distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the event, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, feeling detached or estranged from others, or being unable to experience positive emotions. Many of these alterations can lead the person to wrongly blame themselves or others for the event, have an ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame.
  • Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Irritability, angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behavior are arousal and reactive symptoms of a traumatic event. Individuals may also be suspicious of their surroundings, be easily startled, or have problems concentrating or sleeping.

Individuals may experience a few or many symptoms, and it is important to remember that symptoms in any of these categories can vary in severity.

It is also important to note that PTSD brings many difficult emotions, but shame is often associated with severe PTSD. Research has found that feeling shameful after a traumatic event can lead to unhealthy coping strategies, such as avoidance or self-destructive behaviors.

Shame is known as a “self-conscious emotion” and is related to guilt. Let’s look at the difference between shame and guilt closer from the Very Well Mind.

  • Shame is an emotion that occurs when evaluating or judging yourself negatively. For example, you might feel shameful when you view yourself as worthless, weak, bad, or useless.
  • Guilt, on the other hand, occurs when you evaluate a behavior or an action as negative. For example, feeling guilty when you feel you did something that can be perceived as wrong or inconsiderate.

As we mentioned, victims of trauma may blame themselves for the events, which can instill persistent feelings of shame. Confronting past events is necessary for healing, but feelings of shame can be so intense and uncontrollable they can be debilitating and hinder the recovery process.

What treatment is available for PTSD?

PTSD can seriously impact daily functioning and lead to unhealthy coping skills. When someone experiences persistent symptoms, they may need to seek professional help that can help them to develop effective coping skills and regain a sense of control over their life. At Yellowbrick, our Trauma Recovery Program is rooted in the understanding that traumatic experience affects the whole being including our minds, emotions, and systems of belief, and the body. Our program addresses the neurobiological and psychological effects of a hyperactivated nervous system and trauma-related attachment patterns from both a mind and body focus with the goal of integration of the fragmented self-states that trauma creates.

Our IOP group is available separately for men and who have experienced interpersonal trauma involving violence and/or the extreme or persistent violation of emotional, physical, or sexual boundaries. The group is divided into 3 interrelated components.

  • Trauma Recovery Mindfulness is an experiential group that rotates seventeen weeks of yoga with seventeen weeks of art therapy.
  • Trauma Recovery Education & Discussion Group teaches the Becoming Safely Embodied skills developed by Deirdre Fay.
  • Trauma Recovery Interpersonal Group Therapy provides a forum for the development of increased safety as issues related to trauma are explored and identified as they arise both in content and within/between the interpersonal relationships in the group.

Issues specific to men and women are addressed separately but at times may be combined when this facilitates deeper integration and understanding. Yellowbrick’s Trauma Recovery IOP invites traumatized individuals to elicit self-directed power through metabolizing the guilt, shame, self-doubt and anger associated with trauma. Call 847 869-1500 ext 233 to find out more and experience if Yellowbrick is a good fit for you.

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