Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — What Is It?

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Thursday, April 05, 2018
By Mirta Pont, LCSW,

Before I became a therapist I heard the term PTSD used and I connected it to the military or war veterans. Also, I didn’t really know or understand what the term entailed. Since becoming a therapist, I’ve encountered so many individuals coming in for anxiety and it turns out they are suffering from PTSD. These individuals have not been to war though. In fact, these are random people: accountants, mothers, grandparents, teenagers, etcetera. What they all have in common is the inability to get past a “traumatic” event and a set of symptoms. That event may be a natural disaster, a violent crime, a car accident, and many other situations that people end up meeting the criteria for PTSD in the DSM-5 (see below symptoms).

Taking a closer look at a recent event that happened in Miami, a bridge collapsing killing six people. Again, guilty of watching the news I swear to avoid, I saw some of the victims that survived being interviewed and I spotted potential PTSD symptoms setting in. One young man had witnessed the bridge falling right before him and is unable to get rid of that image from his head. Another person survived the incident but is now afraid — afraid of something sudden and unexpected happening even when in a safe place. I wonder how in the world these people will get back to normal?

In 2010, I became trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). I learned that traumatic events are not processed in the brain in the same way that normal information is. Those memories become frozen in the limbic part of the brain. This includes, sounds, images, colors, scents and negative beliefs. Until the brain is able to release, reprocess and integrate these memories the person will be at risk for developing what is known as PTSD or Complex PTSD. The first can be considered a single-episode and the second is seen as stemming from childhood trauma where perhaps it was more prolonged and compounded by years of repression. Regardless, the following are symptoms that should be addressed if they persist for more than three months and especially if they interfere with normal daily functioning: 

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Being triggered (reacting to seemingly benign situations in an intense way)
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event or avoid thinking of the event
  • Negative thinking
  • Feeling jittery or hyper-aroused
  • Feeling anxious and/or depressed
  • Hard time sleeping, concentrating, fatigue

Through the use of EMDR, I have been able to help many clients process single-episode events as well as, process early childhood events. EMDR triggers the mind’s natural tendency to heal, and many PTSD symptoms either improve and/or diminish. I encourage anyone who thinks they might be experiencing any PTSD symptoms to reach out for help. This is something that can be dealt with and is not a life sentence.