Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a stress related disorder that develops after experiencing a potentially life threatening trauma and/or upon witnessing the sudden death of people to war, physical and sexual assault, accident, natural disaster and crime. Extreme fight-or-flight occurs when affected persons are exposed to triggers such as flashbacks, memories, thoughts, feelings, dreams, and places or situations that are like the original trauma. Anxiety persists long after the danger has passed. In severe cases, affected persons associate those situations with danger and they are avoided at all costs.
Common symptoms include:
- hypervigilance or an intense awareness of the environment with scanning for threats
- flashbacks or a sudden and vivid memory of the traumatic event
- an exaggerated startle response
- nightmares often with themes reminiscent of the trauma
- a heightened physiological state characterized by anxiety attacks and fight-or-flight
- trouble with concentration
- extreme irritability and low frustration tolerance
- negative thoughts about self and the world
- lack of awareness of surroundings/time also known as dissociation
- inability to recall aspects of the traumatic experience.
PTSD is painful. Fortunately, evidenced-based treatments like Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) for PTSD are available. PET was developed by psychologist, Dr. Edna Foa, and her team at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2014, Frank Morelli, LMHC completed a four-day intensive to use PET with victims of trauma and traumatic experiences. PET is recognized as one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. The efficacy of PET as a cognitive behavioral therapy has been replicated worldwide in over 40 comprehensive studies.
Dr. Foa theorizes that avoidance coping is what keeps the person with PTSD symptomatic. Avoidance coping means suppressing and ignoring painful memories, thoughts, and triggers associated with the original trauma. Dr. Foa postulates that recovery occurs as the person engages in emotional processing of traumatic memories. This provides the opportunity for new learning which disconfirms maladaptive beliefs about self, the world, and the ability to cope.