What Is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a collection of symptoms and responses to a traumatic event or experience. These reactions can be physical and emotional. In the past, this has been referred to as “shell shock” in reference to the soldiers coming home from war and combat. Even when it was recognized, there was a sense of disdain for those experiencing this condition. Many felt that this stress response was the result of weak conviction and cowardice.

Since then, the understanding of how trauma affects individuals—both those soldiers who have experienced wartime and those who have suffered other forms of trauma—has evolved to be more sympathetic. It’s possible to talk with medical professionals about your experience and PTSD is now recognized as a valid and serious diagnosis.

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PTSD Symptoms

One of the most recognizable aspects of PTSD is a response to specific stimuli. These stimuli typically have some connection to the traumatic event or experience. Symptoms can present themselves with or without exposure to these stimuli or triggers, but someone with this disorder must remain vigilant for unexpected sources of triggers.

Arousal & Reactivity

Stress has many different effects on the body and mind. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, issues arise in regards to arousal and reactivity. When exposed to a trigger, a person can become more irritable or aggressive. Someone with PTSD may have difficulty sleeping, be hyper-aware of their surroundings, and be more easily startled.

Recurrent Experiences

Someone with PTSD may also have consistent distressing dreams related to the traumatic event, or regularly and involuntarily remember the traumatic experience. In some extreme cases, the individual may have “flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring.” These can be the result of repeated or unexpected exposure to triggers or independent of such interaction.

Avoidance Behaviors

When there is an intense negative association with certain stimuli, an individual with PTSD may seek to avoid it. This avoidance can be conscious or unconscious. This kind of behavior can manifest as either lack of interest in activities that were once important or enjoyable, feeling disconnected from other people, and a reduced capability in positive emotions in both expression and experience.

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Possible Treatments

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs lists three treatments that most often see positive results: Prolonged Exposure, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing.

  • Prolonged Exposure treatment is related to talk therapy. As the name implies, this form of therapy exposes the individual to their feelings either through discussion or actually participating in activities that have been avoided.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy focuses more on how to personally deal with the understanding of the trauma. By putting the trauma in a different context and broadening an understanding of the negative experiences, individuals will find nontraumatic ways to handle engage with these memories.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) seeks to tie trauma to specific stimuli so help make sense of the situation. This is done with a sound, light, or object moving from side to side.

These each have their strengths, but are not always 100% effective. This can be because every person’s trauma and the way they experience it are unique to their experiences. Likewise, their treatment will require a more individualised approach. When that happens, alternative treatments can be implemented as a way to improve symptoms and treat the underlying cause.

“…the understanding of how trauma affects individuals—both those soldiers who have experienced wartime and those who have suffered other forms of trauma—has evolved…”

Alternative Treatments for PTSD

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS for short, is an experimental, noninvasive, non-drug therapy technique that applies magnetic energy to specific parts of the brain associated with disorders such as PTSD. Studies have found that TMS can be an effective treatment for those suffering with PTSD and have not seen results from other treatments.

During treatment, a trained technician uses a TMS machine to produce very small electrical currents in the patient’s brain. These electrical currents activate cells within the brain which are thought to release neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Typically, this therapy is reserved for those people who have tried other forms of traditional treatment without success. In most cases, people who utilize this form of therapy do see noted improvements with very minimal negative side effects.

When looking for a solution or effective treatment for PTSD, it’s important to know your options and be able to trust your care providers. TMS Center of the Lehigh Valley is the Allentown area’s premiere provider of TMS therapy for PTSD. Our trained professionals can help you navigate your treatment and care so that you are always in the best position to make decisions moving forward.

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