PTSD Counseling: Identify Symptoms and Start Healing
By Baz Porter
The demand for PTSD counseling has been growing fast these past years. Is it because we are all living hard times? Or is it because we are finally being more open about our feelings and the seek for help has been demystified?
I believe we have moved forward in terms of mental health and spirituality as a society, but still, almost 85% of PTSD diagnoses are completely ignored! Which can cause the person to feel even worse than they did before because they don’t get the help they need.
My goal is to be fully honest with you, but I am also here to offer you some relief, empathy, and solutions. in this blog, I will explain what is PTSD, how to identify its symptoms, and how it is absolutely possible to be freed from it.
What Is PTSD About?
Let’s start by the beginning. PTSD is the acronym for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, something you have probably heard of a lot lately. In fact, if you go right now and search “PTSD” on Google the first suggestion the browser will make is “PTSD wiki”.
People are hungry for information about this disorder, so much it has been reflected in our social media, newspapers, TV shows, and regular conversations with peers. But what is it exactly?
Essentially speaking, PTSD is a mental disorder developed by a person that has been exposed to severe, unusual, acute stressful events.
You probably first heard of PTSD in a conversation related to returning soldiers, but this condition is also very common among people who:
– Have suffered serious accidents
– Were victims of terrorist attacks
– Sexual abuse
– Extreme bullying
– Gender and domestic violence
– Sudden abandonment
– Survivors of natural disasters
– And even workplace stressful environments
For many years Psychiatrists, Researchers, Psychologists, and many other health professionals thought this condition was exclusive for returning soldiers, when in fact, the only requirement is to have gone or been going through a major life trauma.
And life traumas are perceived individually, that’s why some people feel hurt or damaged by some situations that others would simply ignore. Despite the efforts of many professionals around the world, PTSD is still mislabeled, underdiagnosed, and misdiagnosed almost 85% of the time.
Its symptoms are very similar to depression, anxiety disorder, and adjustment disorder, but PTSD treatment is different from all of those other conditions. That’s why having such a high percentage of misdiagnosis is a terrible fact for people who need to understand what they are going through.
They need to name it, understand it, recognize it, and move forward.
How Do I Know If I Have PTSD?
Each person experiences this condition differently, but there are some PTSD symptoms that will show up constantly, and knowing them will help you distinguish if you have this condition or not.
Remember what we just said earlier: the only condition to develop a PTSD is going through some major trauma. And that trauma can be a different thing for each person. Independently of the event you may think it started it all, these are some PTSD symptoms:
– Vivid flashbacks (feeling like the traumatic event is happening over and over again)
– Intrusive thoughts and images
– Constant nightmares
– Sweating, nausea, tremors, and physical pain
– Constant distress at real and symbolic reminders of the trauma
– Extreme alertness (hypervigilance)
– Recklessness or self-destructive behavior
– Panic attacks
– Emotional and physical numbness
– Difficulty trusting others, even close friends and family
– Constant feelings of guilt, insecurity, and detachment
There’s no wonder why people who feel all these things tend to avoid their feelings and memories, which is something that also makes difficult the correct diagnose process, and its treatment as well.
These symptoms are expected to appear between 3 and 12 months after the traumatic event has occurred, however, PTSD is not a light switch you can turn up and down, you may be experiencing a bad week and feeling just fine the next one.
Only full awareness of yourself and your emotions can determine whether you have this condition or a different disorder, hence the importance of enlightenment, self-exploration, and being present.
Can You Prevent PTSD?
This is a very common question among the motivational talks I have given in the past, and yes, PTSD can be prevented.
You may be wondering how. How come humans can prevent trauma? How can we avoid being badly hurt? Those are not the right questions for this matter, though.
Nobody can prevent trauma, nobody can prevent being hurt by something or someone else, but we can do many things to avoid being scarred by these events. We can truly know ourselves and our environment to handle crises better.
Correct stress management can help you prevent PTSD, and it has been proven that transcendental meditation, in fact, does not only help to prevent it, but also to treat it.
And here is where I bring back the period of 3 to 12 months before symptoms start to show up. If you have gone through a major life event, the best thing you can do is talk about it with someone you trust, whether this person is a friend, a relative, a Psychologist, a coach, or your blog. We must speak to recognize and understand what happened so we can heal.
Your mind’s natural response to trauma is to ignore it, to run from it. Because we may not have the necessary resources to face that event, and until that happens, we need to hide it, even from ourselves.
Ignoring a trauma only postpones the grief and extends the emotional pain to the point it becomes almost impossible to have a “normal” life.
It has been proven that the following activities help to prevent and treat PTSD:
– See yourself as a survivor instead of a victim (this does not refer to victim shaming)
– Being open about the trauma with close friends and relatives
– Learn to use positive emotions when especially needed (such as laughter)
– Finding teachings and meaning in the trauma
– Believing you can manage your feelings
– Helping others heal
How Is PTSD Treated?
Common PTSD treatments mostly rely on psychological therapy and medication, being cognitive behavioral therapy the most used one for these cases.
CBT usually involves changing someone’s behavioral patterns, feelings, and thoughts. One significant change in one of those areas will affect the other two simultaneously, often with a positive result.
This kind of therapy teaches you to stop overgeneralizing bad past or current situations and to have not exclusively positive thoughts, but more balanced ones. It is also the kind of therapy that teaches you to react to trauma and potential crisis, to manage stress, and learn relaxation techniques.
In my opinion, CBT has the same goal as transcendental meditation: help the person to objectively understand the trauma, offer some control over it, and help them reduce the negative behaviors through acceptance, healing, and confidence. Despite their different approaches, they both deliver excellent results.
I will not tell you which PTSD counseling method to choose, because I believe there are different kinds of treatments for different types of trauma. But I will say that either treatment you choose for yourself, they all need deep spiritual, physical, and mental work from you.
And one thing that really eases the healing process is knowing yourself, being present to have control of our thoughts so we can start doing things that move us forward. All these things need commitment, honesty, and reliability, but achieving them may be hard without the right therapist, coach, and friends around you.
PTSD affects all our relationships, including work, couples, family, friends, even our community. It is a very powerful condition capable of harming ourselves and those around us, sadly, people often look for help once those relationships have received considerable damage.
Healing is possible, but the path is not going to be easy unless you open up to yourself first.
What Happens If I Don’t Want to Get Help?
There is no possibility to have a successful PTSD counseling if the person does not want to heal.
And I know this is a hard fact to process, ‘how come I wouldn’t want to heal? Of course I want to! ‘. Sure you do, but as I said before, healing comes through self-acceptance and understanding, two things very hard to achieve if you are not ready to forgive yourself, to see a different point of view, or accept reality as it is.
People who aren’t ready to start treatment often feel like what they are going through is ‘not that bad’, that ‘they are in control’, ‘it’s just that I’m a nervous person!’. That’s their defense mechanism talking.
I completely understand that you don’t feel ready, or if you truly believe you don’t need it even after been diagnosed. But with my heart open, I tell you to believe in yourself, in a better future, and that there’s help waiting just for you.
All those consequences are preventable. You just need to open up to the present and decide by yourself that you have had enough and that you deserve a wonderful life for you and your loved ones.
How Can I Start to Accept the Help I Need?
I have talked to many people with PTSD that have asked me this question. But they have already done an important part of the task already: questioning themselves how they feel.
Since PTSD is a condition usually related to firemen/women, police officers, and the military, when someone starts developing the symptoms they often think it’s depression or anxiety, so they don’t search for help because ‘they don’t have that’.
Fortunately, there’s the PTSD awareness day and many other organizations, spiritual guides, coaches, and specialists doing an amazing job normalizing PTSD and mental disorders so people who need help can get it.
Now, recognizing you need help is not just an awareness task. You have to fight really hard against your thoughts and the demolishing feeling of running away from them.
Once you start confronting yourself you start making questions like ‘how am I feeling today?’, ‘is there some real threat going on around me?’, ‘was it always like this?’.
Those questions lead you to understand your symptoms, and once you recognize you are not doing well, that the more you ignore it the lonelier you feel, that you deserve to feel joy, a good night’s sleep, to enjoy the little things again. That’s when you start moving forward in your healing process.
Recommendations for People With PTSD
I hope these words had clarified you what PTSD is about, and at the same time, that they had given you strength and hope to begin this healing journey.
But before finishing, I would like to recommend you a PTSD counseling exercise to help you cope with overwhelming feelings, or to monitor then on a daily basis:
First, you need discipline, constancy. Every morning or before going to bed find a quiet place and set a 5-minute timer. During that time, you will just feel. Your heart rhythm, any tingling sensation, whatever thoughts that come to your mind.
Do not feel agitated if bad memories come to your mind. Slowly try to see them from afar. Like a past event and not an on-going situation. Analyze it, mentally describe your feelings, disentangle them through comprehension and acceptance.
The goal of this exercise is to train yourself to deal with intrusive thoughts and dissociations during the day. Whenever you feel the world around you is turning black again, bring back the control feeling and the memory of understanding your trauma, so you can take care of those tormenting feelings later when you are ready for them.
And remember to always be present so you can heal the past and build a bright future.
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