M. D. Jackson has studied psychology since 1989. While her specialty is family relations, she also loves neuroscience and behaviorism.
This Hub is not a replacement for psychiatric help. Although it is intended to assist people with PTSD, every person’s situation is different. People experiencing PTSD symptoms should be in the care of a professional.
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder brought about though a traumatic event or series of events (APA, 2014). Most commonly associated with war or events involving violence, PTSD causes excessive anxiety, irrational thoughts, panic, hallucinations, flashbacks, and nightmares. PTSD is considered to be a psychological injury to the brain. Whereas a normal person will think rationally and react normally to situations, the person with PTSD will react irrationally with and without cause. Consider the act of hearing someone hammer a nail, a person with PTSD may hear that noise and associate it with a threat, whereas many people will barely notice the noise. In severe cases PTSD is disabling, causing people to lose control over their thoughts. People with PTSD tend to focus on PTSD even when attacks are not occurring because, the fear that they could have an attack is always present.
Does Medication Work?
PTSD is usually treated with prescription drugs. However, treating PTSD with drugs is not an exact science and many failures resulting in violent outbursts, or erratic behavior are common with prescription drugs. I want to make one thing very clear: NO ONE ON A PERSCRIPTION DRUG SHOULD EVER STOP TAKING THEIR PERSCRIBED MEDICATION WITHOUT BEING IN A DOCTORS CARE. Stopping a prescribed drug without a doctor’s care may lead to a psychotic episode.
Medication will always only have a minimal effect on PTSD. Every person’s brain is wired to balance itself. When you take a drug your brain rebalances it’s self by counteracting the drug, over time the brain compensates for the drug use and the drug becomes ineffective. In some aspects this explains why addicts have to up the dosage to get high, their brain is compensating for the drug. The use of psychotropic drugs is dangerous for anyone. Psychotropic drugs do not have the same effect on every person. Any time a drug is prescribed family should be aware of what the individual is taking and the person should be watched carefully for an adverse reaction. CHECK YOUR LABELS. Always be aware of the potential side effects of a drug. Most of these medications clearly stated that they may cause the person to have suicidal thoughts of actions.
Do drugs work? It is my personal opinion that medication only masks the problems associate with PTSD, medication does not cure PTSD. The brain is an amazing organ, like the rest of the body, the brain can heal. When we mask the effects of PTSD we keep the brain from healing. When we force chemicals into the brain, we alter the brains ability to heal on its own.
How Does PTSD Disrupt Thinking?
PTSD sets off a person’s natural fight or flight reflex. In a dangerous situation the fight or flight reflex helps a person get through a traumatic experience and causes their adrenaline to give that person self-preservation decisions making skills. However, when a person has PTSD their fight or flight reflex malfunctions making them think they are in a life threatening situation, thus causing panic, disorientation, and erratic behaviors (checking out windows, barricading themselves in, ect). Soldiers can be in combat situations for months at a time. This extended period of having the fight or flight reflex engaged is how soldiers survive in the traumatic war environment. Once a soldier is out of the military or is at least sent back to the states, they can no longer control their fight or flight reflex. It starts to engage when they are not in danger. Basically their bran tries to save them from a threat that does not exist.
In situations where a person has a singly traumatic experience, the fight or flight is damaged by the severity of that one experience. In both cases triggers can cause an episode. Triggers can be set off by sensory stimulation such as: sound, physical movement, or visual stimulation. One of the first steps to healing is noting triggers. For people with PTSD scary/thriller movies, video games, or even action television shows may trigger a person’s PTSD. A person with PTSD should avoid their triggers. Sometimes the triggers are so nominal to the rest of the world that t can be difficult to pinpoint the triggers.
Healing PTSD, Getting Back to Normal
The human mind records everything that happens during our lives. Would you touch a hot stove? No, you wouldn’t because most of us ignored our mom at one time or another and we touched the stove. Of course we got burned and we learned to be careful around the stove. When a person has a traumatic experience their mind has recorded the event and the mind tried to protect that person from getting burned again. The subconscious mind is the key to overcoming PTSD. The subconscious thinks the person is in danger because like the hot stove, the subconscious has learned that danger is all around.
To heal the mind from PTSD a person has to retrain their own subconscious. Teaching the subconscious that it is safe is an easy yet time consuming task. It requires a person to speak to themselves in the beginning of the attack. The person has to calm their own mind and tell their mind they are safe. I know what you are thinking, this cannot work, yet it does. The human mind can heal, it just needs to be retained and told what to do. If the slamming of a screen door triggers a person’s PTSD, then that person should tell themselves as soon as they hear that door “I am safe, that is just the door, I am safe”. Over several months of retraining a person’s brain, the episodes are less and less frequent. The person starts to take control of their mind again. This is not a slow process, it takes time, months even years. Gradually the person gets their life back.
Other progressive PTSD therapies include immersion therapy. Immersion therapy puts the person into a safe environment and allows them to deal with the memory or memories that caused the PTSD. This type of therapy has a high success rate. Once the mind has reasonably dealt with the fear and reaction, it can let it go.
Treatment of PTSD
The Role of Family and Friends
I cannot stress enough how important a support system is to a person with PTSD. Family tends to be afraid of the person with PTSD. Sometimes heated arguments happen. When a person with PTSD is having issues no one should be yelling. People around the person with PTSD need to maintain monotone voices and at times even whisper. Yelling will escalate the situation and will intensify the persons attack. Family members should take time out away from the person with PTSD to avoid feeling trapped in the situation. A person can only be strong so much. Family members should continue about their regular routines as much as possible.
Leaving the Medication Behind
AS PREVIOUSLY STATED NO ONE SHOULD STOP TAKING A MEDICATION WITHOUT CONSULTING A DOCTOR. As a person starts to regain the control of their thoughts, a doctor can slowly (over months or years) discontinue their medication. No person should take it upon themselves to discontinue medication. Stopping the medication cold turkey can cause a person to have a complete melt down. For this same reason people on medication should ensure that they are ahead of their Doctors appointments to avoid a laps in medication use.