PTSD & Trauma Counseling

Have you ever endured a traumatic experience? Have you felt frightened, scared, anxious, or sad because of it? Are you having trouble functioning in your day-to-day life due to these overwhelming feelings that you just can’t seem to get rid of? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects individuals who experience traumatic or catastrophic events that alter their sense of control and perception of it. In San Diego in particular, there has been a recent increase in the number of individuals experiencing PTSD and seeking help for their debilitating symptoms.

If you’re wondering if you suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Have I endured a painful, traumatic experience during my lifetime?
  2. Do I feel anxious, scared, and sad often?
  3. Do I feel like things are beyond my control and that I won’t ever be able to live a normal life again?
  4. Do I feel as though other people simply don’t understand what I’m going through?

There are a number of traumatic life experiences that could trigger PTSD in an individual. They are as follows, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Rape or sexual assault
  • Physical abuse or assault
  • Childhood neglect
  • Kidnapping
  • War
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Natural disasters
  • Car or plane accident
  • The sudden death of a loved one

As I said, these are just a few examples of common traumatic events that could lead to PTSD. Basically, any life-altering event that feels unpredictable and uncontrollable to the individual, causing him or her to feel hopeless and helpless is sufficient to cause symptoms of PTSD. In men, the most common cause of PTSD is military combat. In women, rape or sexual assault is the most common cause of PTSD. For most people experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, PTSD symptoms develop just hours after the event has taken place. However, for other people, the onset can be prolonged and not surface for weeks, months, or even years afterward. Many of us go through or witness someone close to us endure a painful experience at some point in our lives.

Most certainly, all of us have witnessed something disturbing, even if it’s just on TV, such as the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Almost everyone who was alive during these attacks remembers seeing the footage of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, replayed over and over again on the news. For some people, this is enough to trigger symptoms of PTSD, as this event was so disturbing, so unpredictable, and so beyond anyone’s control. It is possible to developPTSD after witnessing a life-altering event like this, albeit on television, even if you did not have any loved ones who were directly affected by this terrible incident. For those who did know someone in New York City at the time of the attacks (be it a resident of the city, a worker in one of the buildings, or a rescue worker), these overwhelming feelings of anxiety and sadness are probably all the more painful. With the ten year anniversary of 9/11 recently passing, many of us were forced to re-live this disturbing footage and return to that time in our lives when our country was attacked and our safety was compromised. With the War on Terrorism and the deployment of American soldiers to the Middle East, we are currently experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of soldiers coming home affected by the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, many of whom reside in the San Diego area.

What is the difference between PTSD and “normal” feelings of being frightened, scared, upset, or anxious? Usually after a traumatic experience, the aforementioned feelings are “normal”. If it is not PTSD, these feelings will fade away with time, and will not resurface and cause you pain and suffering for a prolonged period of time. For someone with PTSD, these feelings don’t “fade away” or “disappear”. Instead, they resurface constantly, causing the individual ongoing, debilitating symptoms that are seemingly endless. For someone with PTSD, getting back to his/her regular life is challenging and feels nearly impossible. These people may have difficulty connecting with others. Perhaps they feel as though no one else could possibly understand their experience or what they went through. PTSD sufferers often report feeling unsafe, with thoughts that danger is imminent and lurking at every corner. After a traumatic experience, your body and mind are in a state of psychological shock. For someone with PTSD, this shock does not go away in time. Instead, it may worsen and be frequently triggered by things that remind you of the original, traumatic event (i.e. a certain smell, noise, picture, or phrase). In order to receive a proper diagnosis of PTSD, it is important to consult a professional therapist or counselor who is familiar with PTSD. If you think that you might be suffering from PTSD, please do not hesitate to give me a call for a free consultation so that I can better get to know you and your situation and be better equipped to help you get your life back. In the meantime, some common signs and symptoms of PTSD are listed below:

  1. Re-living or re-experiencing the traumatic event (this could even be in the form of nightmares or flashbacks)
  2. Avoiding things or places that remind you of the traumatic experience
  3. Inability to recall certain aspects of the traumatic experience
  4. Heightened anxiety or emotional arousal to nearly everything you encounter (hypervigilance)
  5. Physical reactions when reminded of the trauma (i.e. excessive sweating, panic attacks, increase heart rate)
  6. Difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep
  7. Concentration and focus difficulties
  8. Feeling detached from family and friends or feeling emotionally numb
  9. Loss of interest in activities and hobbies you once found enjoyable
  10. Guilt or self-blame for the traumatic event
  11. Turning to substances in order to cope (i.e. drugs or alcohol)
  12. Feeling as though there is no hope and that your future is limited

Getting treatment for your PTSD is a priority, since the sooner your symptoms are confronted and dealt with, the quicker you will be able to overcome them and return to your “normal” way of living. Remember, you don’t have to live like this forever. There is help available for you, and with this help, you will be able to overcome PTSD and the debilitating symptoms it encompasses. Having PTSD is not a sign of personal weakness. With the help of an experienced PTSD counselor like myself, you will be able to confront, overcome, and accept the trauma as a part of your past. While I recognize that seeking help for PTSD is not an easy thing to do, since it involves talking about and essentially “re-living” painful memories, getting help is imperative if you want to recover and regain your life back. Avoidance may seem easier for the time being, but over the course of several years, you will find that avoiding these feelings and memories will only make your symptoms worse and further hinder your recovery to a normal lifestyle. In PTSD therapy, you will be provided with an emotional outlet for those painful feelings you’ve been bottling up. Additionally, you and your therapist will work together through these difficult feelings by confronting them and discussing them. In therapy, you will also learn how to deal with the recurring thoughts, feelings, and memories of the traumatic event when they arise. If you’re looking for some tips to deal with PTSD in the meantime, or between your therapy sessions, you can try the following:

Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for support – While PTSD can indeed make you feel disconnected from the world around you, it is important to continue to engage in social activities, as much as you can possibly tolerate, in order to keep the connection between you and your loved ones alive. Remember, these people care about you and what you’re going through. They love you and are probably concerned about your well-being. Let them in. Support from close friends and family is a vital step in the recovery process of PTSD. If you are uncomfortable speaking to your loved ones about the trauma you endured, consider joining a PTSD support group. Here, you will be able to talk about your experience as well as hear about others’ traumatic experiences. Joining a support group may make you feel less alone and less isolated, since you will realize that there are others struggling with the same or similar feelings as you are.

Tip #2: Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms – This includes things like drugs, alcohol, or self-destructive behavior (i.e. self-injury). While it may seem easy or even tempting to self-medicate with substances, in the long run this will only add to your array of problems. You will likely develop a dependence on these substances, and may even become addicted. Substance use might help you feel better in the short-term, but in the long-term it will take away from your therapeutic experience and hinder your recovery and re-integration back into the world.

Tip #3: Challenge Yourself – Feeling hopeless and helpless are common symptoms of PTSD. Therefore, the key to overcoming it is to confront and challenge these feelings. Remind yourself that you are strong and that you will be able to make it through this. Self-talk is helpful, along with making a list of all the good qualities and coping mechanisms you have. When in doubt, consult this list and you will likely feel a little bit better about yourself. If you would rather focus your energy elsewhere and not on yourself, consider volunteering for a local San Diegoorganization, or donating to a cause you strongly believe in. Positive action not only takes the focus off of yourself, but directs your attention to healthy, constructive activities that will help you conquer your feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Tip #4: Practice Relaxation Techniques – Join a yoga class or try yoga at home. Deep-breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation techniques may also be beneficial. Above all, remember that you are not alone. Many people suffer from PTSD – you are not the first and you will not be the last. If you can attempt to confront your feelings with the help of a PTSD counselor, you are taking the first step toward total recovery from this debilitating condition. While recovery from PTSD takes time, it is not impossible. You will get through this and you can be helped. It all begins with that first step, so please give me a call today at 858-481-0425  so that I can help you get through this and help you to get your life back on track.

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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