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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Essay, Research Paper

Have you ever witnessed someone being badly injured or even killed? Have you ever been involved in a fire, flood, or any other natural disaster? The estimated lifetime prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among adult Americans is 7.8%, with men calculating at 5% and women at 10.4%, twice as likely as men to have PTSD at some point in their lives. This represents a small proportion of those who have experienced at least one traumatic event, for 60.7% of men and 51.2% of women reported at least one traumatic event. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in victims who experience or witness life-threatening events, and this disorder can be familiarized with through knowing how it was discovered, the symptoms, and the treatment of PTSD.

To begin with, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an extremely weakening condition that affects the body’s normal conscience. Reports have shown the traumatic events most often associated with PTSD in men were rape, war combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. The most common events for women were rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse. However, none of these events consistently produced PTSD in those exposed to it. A particular type of traumatic event does not necessarily affect different sectors of the

population in the same way. Some studies show that debriefing people very soon after a catastrophic event may reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD. A study of 12,000 school children who lived through a hurricane in Hawaii found that those who received counseling early on were doing much better two years later than those who did not. People with PTSD tend to have abnormal levels of important hormones involved in response to stress. When people are in danger, they produce high levels of natural opiates, which can temporarily block pain. Scientists have discovered that people with PTSD continue to produce those higher levels even after the traumatic event has passed. It used to be believed that people who tend to dissociate themselves from a trauma were showing a healthy response, but now some researchers suspect that people who experience dissociation may be more prone to PTSD. PTSD is not a new disorder. There are written accounts of similar symptoms that go back to ancient times. Also, there is clear documentation in the historical medical literature starting with the Civil War, where a PTSD-like disorder was known as “Da Costa’s Syndome.” During World War I it was called shock. Later, in World War II the disorder received a somewhat more fancy name–battle fatigue. It was not named Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder until after the Vietnam War, when multiple cases of this syndrome were discovered and researched. PTSD has been researched in

victims on a civilian side just as much, or even more, than in military soldiers. Rescue workers involved in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing, survivors of the 1994 California earthquake, the 1997 South Dakota floods, hurricanes Hugo and Andrew, etc., are among many who have been treated for the disorder. Families of victims have also been treated for PTSD.

Moving on, many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal numerous times, especially when they are exposed to occurrences or objects reminiscent of the traumatic event. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. Most people experience some of the symptoms of PTSD in the days and weeks following exposure, but the symptoms generally decrease over time and eventually disappear. However, about 8% of men and 20% of women go on to develop PTSD, and roughly 30% of these individuals develop a chronic form that persists throughout their lifetimes. Following a disaster, some children may be upset at the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear, etc. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than one month. The most common physical symptoms include irritability or sudden outbursts of anger, and exaggerated startle responses. These symptoms are known as being hyper arousal. Recurring nightmares, intrusive daydreams, and flashbacks are psychological symptoms that are usually found in victims of the disorder. A victim may also experience

emotional signs such as feelings of detachment or alienation, depression, and inability to have loving feelings. Most victims with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the traumatic event they experienced. The course of chronic PTSD usually involves periods of symptom increase followed by remission of decrease, although for some individuals symptoms may be unremitting and severe.

Furthermore, treatment for PTSD typically begins with a detailed evaluation, and development of a treatment plan that meets the unique needs of the survivor. Generally, PTSD-specific-treatment is begun only when the survivor is safely removed from a crisis situation. For instance, if a victim is currently exposed to trauma, such as by ongoing domestic or community violence, abuse, or homelessness), severely depressed or suicidal, experiencing extreme panic or disorganized thinking, or in need of drug or alcohol detoxification, addressing these crisis problems becomes part of the first treatment phase. Educating trauma victims and their families about how people get PTSD, how PTSD affects survivors and their loved ones, and other problems that commonly come along with PTSD symptoms. Understanding that PTSD is a medically recognized anxiety disorder that occurs in normal individuals under very stressful conditions is essential for effective treatment. Exposure to the

event via imagery allows the victim to reexperience the event in a safe, controlled environment, while also carefully examining their reactions and beliefs in relation to that event. Another step is examining and resolving strong feelings such as anger, shame, or guilt, which are common among survivors of trauma.

Teaching the survivor to cope with post-traumatic memories, reminders, reactions, and feelings without becoming overwhelmed or emotionally numb. Trauma memories usually do not go away entirely as a result of therapy, but become manageable with new coping skills. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) involves working with cognitiones to change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Pharmacotherapy, or medication, can reduce the anxiety, depression, and insomnia often experienced with PTSD. In some cases it may help relieve the distress and emotional numbness caused by trauma memories. Several kinds of antidepressant drugs have achieved improvement in most, but not all, clinical trials, and some other classes of drugs have shown promise. Today, no particular drug has emerged as a definitive treatment for PTSD, although medication is clearly useful for the symptom relief that makes it possible for victims to participate in psychotherapy. A relatively new treatment of traumatic memories which involves elements of exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, combined with physical techniques which create an alteration of

attention back and forth across the person’s mid line is known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). While the theory and research are still evolving with this form of treatment, there is some evidence that the therapeutic element unique to EMDR, attentional alteration, may facilitate accessing and processing traumatic material. Group treatment is often an ideal therapeutic setting because trauma survivors are able to risk sharing traumatic material with the safety, cohesion, and empathy provided by other survivors. As group members achieve greater understanding and resolution of their occurrence, they often feel more confident and able to trust. As they discuss and share coping of trauma-related shame, guilt, rage, fear, doubt, and self-condemnation, they prepare themselves to focus on the present rather than the past. Brief psycho dynamic psychotherapy focuses on the emotional conflicts caused by the traumatic event, particularly as they relate to early life experiences. Through the retelling of the traumatic event to a calm, empathic therapist, the survivor gets a greater sense of self-esteem, develops effective ways of thinking and coping, and more successfully deals with the intense emotions that emerge during therapy. The therapist helps the victim identify current life situations that set off traumatic memories and worsen PTSD symptoms.

In conclusion, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in victims who experience or witness life-threatening events, and this disorder can be familiarized with through knowing how it was discovered, the symptoms, and the treatment of PTSD. The risk of exposure to trauma has been part of the human condition since we have evolved as a species. Traumatic events can alter one’s personality and way of living drastically. People who do the healing work realize that with the right circumstances, issues resurface from the trauma later in life for them to deal with. Tori Amos’ song “Me and a Gun” on her “Earthquakes” album release captures how she coped while being raped. Her ability to put her mind elsewhere helped her survive the abusive crime. On a more interesting note, unresolved trauma also tends to reappear in the form of reenactments. In Stephen King’s movie “Stand By Me,” there were three incidents regarding trains. The first was of the four boys searching for the body of a boy hit by a train. A second incident was when the boys were fooling around on the train tracks, almost getting hit by not moving out of the way of an oncoming train. The last incident was where one of the boys got stuck on the track and again almost got hit by an oncoming train. It has been reported that at about age five Stephen King had witnessed the death of a childhood friend who was hit by a train. The movie may be a post-traumatic

reenactment for Stephen King. The effect of trauma never ends. As life goes on, every person at least once in their lives will deal with the symptoms and effects associated with PTSD and trauma events that are implement on them.


Work Cited

Foa, E.B., Zinbarg, R., and Rothbaum, B.O. (1992). Uncontrollability and Unpredictability of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 218-238.

Friedman, M.J., Charney, D.S. and Deutch, A.Y. (1995). Neurobiological and Clinical Consequences of Stress: From Normal Adaptation to PTSD. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven.

Herman, J.L. (1992). Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic Books.

Keane, T.M., Wolfe, J., and Taylor, K.I. (1987). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Evidence for Diagnostic Validity and Methods of Psychological Assessment. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 43, 32-43.

Kulka, R.A., Schlenger, W.E., Fairbank, J.A., Hough, R.L., Jordan, B.K., Marmar, C.R., and Weiss, D.S. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Long, Phillip W. (1997). “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” National Mental Health Association. Online. Internet. 10 Oct. 2000. www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/ptsd/pwl.cfm.

Marsella, A.J., Friedman, M.J., Gerrity, E. and Scurfield R.M. (Eds.) (1996). Ethnocultural Aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders: Issues, Research and Applications. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Trimble, M.D. (1985). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: History of a Concept. C.R. Figley (Ed.) Trauma and its Wake: The Study and Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

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