In therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a clinician will assess the trauma victim’s experience of social support, as this has been pointed to as the most helpful resource for decreasing lasting psychological distress. Next, they will prepare the victim to look for bodily symptoms associated with trauma and grief: fatigue, sleep problems, pain, stomach problems, heart palpitations, chest pressure, backaches, and panic attacks. Trauma “re-wires” the brain’s natural arousal pattern circuitry; it is best dealt with in regular on-going outpatient therapy. Neurofeedback training has also been shown to be effective in alleviating symptoms of PTSD. It is important to continue to assess for symptoms of PTSD in the coming months.
Symptoms of PTSD in Adults
- Intrusive thoughts
- Detachment from others
- Anhedonia, a lack of enjoyment of life
- Sleep Disturbance
- Increased Startle Response
Symptoms of PTSD in Children
- Generalized fears
- Sleep disturbance
- Preoccupation with certain symbols
- Posttraumatic play
- Loss of a developmental skill
Stages of the Healing Process for Trauma
The presentation of shock (also referred to as “disarray”) may vary from “numb and stunned” to mutism to being hyperverbal/hyperactive. The victim is generally very distracted (may appear to have ADHD), unfocused, and may go off on tangential thoughts; speech may not make sense. This stage can last anywhere from hours to weeks or months. Typical reactions at this time might include saying “I can’t feel anything” or “I can’t think clearly.” Disorientation and high levels of anxiety are common.
Denial is also a common response. Some deny the event altogether, and others may state it didn’t “bother” him/her. The stages of shock and denial can be long-term, and can take severe mental and emotional tolls on victim. Most blaming is typically directed at the self. Victims may focus on thoughts such as: “If only I didn’t…”, or “I should have…”, or “I shouldn’t have…” Making matters worse, this self-blame is easily exacerbated by supporters like friends, family or investigators.
Pain (also referred to as “anguish”) may be focused on the gut-wrenching loss, particularly if the victim knew the perpetrator—connected to memory and “what was.” Pain usually covers two issues:
- Avoiding: acting out or self-medicating with alcohol or other “numbing” medications or drugs
- Feeling pain: sadness, fearfulness and confusion come to the forefront.
Recent research points to a mixture of both positive and negative outcomes following interpersonal trauma, thus, giving redemptive hope for the victim (see Borja, et.al., 2006; Chopka and Schwartz, 2009). Research indicates that Posttraumatic Growth may involve improved relationships, positive changes, a greater appreciation for life, and a greater sense of spiritual development (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004).
Assessment and counseling intervention for victims of trauma can be the healing bridge from unspeakable pain to hope. The victim of trauma has been forced to look evil in the eye, and the prepared counselor will represent the first glimpse back to sanity in human form. The counselor can point out the way to hope for the future.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, call Genesis today at (757) 827-7707.
Psalm 91:1, 4
I John 5:19-20
AACC’s Stress and Trauma Care training program. (2009). Forest, VA: American Association of Christian Counselors.
Borja, S. E., Callahan, J. L., Long, P. J. (2006). Positive and negative adjustment and social support for sexual assault survivors. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 19:6, 905-914.
Chopko, B. A. and Schwartz, R. C. (2009). The relation between mindfulness and posttraumatic growth: A study of first responders to trauma-inducing incidents. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 31: 4, 363-376.
Foa, E. B., Keane, T. M. and Friedman (2000). Effective Treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Langberg, Diane (1999). On the Threshold of Hope. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Tedeschi, R. G., Calhoun, L. G. (2004). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual foundations and empirical evidence. Psychological Inquiry, 15, 1-18.
By Dr. Trina Young Greer, Psy.D./LCP