Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the continued response of the body’s neurological system to a past traumatic experience when the direct threat of that trauma no longer exists. This is a serious mental-health concern as symptoms, if left untreated, negatively impact a person’s quality of life, sometimes leading to suicidal behaviors. As PTSD affects about 8 million adults in a given year, and 1.4 million children, qualified counselors are needed to help those suffering from this debilitating condition.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Those with PTSD have a continued neurological response to a life threat, even when the threat no longer exists. PTSD can develop following a single traumatic event such as a car crash, or continued experience, such as ongoing sexual abuse or combat in a war zone, wherein an individual feels helpless or that their safety is threatened. PTSD symptoms can affect anyone involved with the event, from the person who experienced or witnessed it directly, to those who deal with the aftermath, such as emergency workers or police. PTSD affects everyone differently, even if symptoms are not present immediately following the event — it sometimes takes months or even years to present symptoms.
One of the most commonly recognized cause of PTSD is warfare. Around 30 percent of those who spent time in war zones experience the condition. Currently, one in three returning soldiers is diagnosed with a serious form of PTSD, with 25 percent of suicides in 2010 reported to be veterans. Trauma affects people from all professional and social identities. Seventy percent of adults in the United States have lived through a traumatic event at some point in their lives (223.4 million) and of those, 20% will develop PTSD as a result of the incident. Furthermore, PTSD-related suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Some causes include:
- Natural disasters – Experiencing a natural disaster firsthand or even the anxiety of an impending catastrophe.
- Car or plane crashes – The stress and injuries incurred in these types of accidents are correlated with PTSD.
- Terrorist attacks – Terrorist attacks have gotten closer to home in the past decade, and many citizens, regardless of direct involvement with an incident, are experiencing PTSD as a result of the strain and anxiety caused by these types of events.
- Kidnapping – The psychological effects of being taken against free will are quite damaging, and many kidnapping victims live for years with symptoms of PTSD.
- The sudden death of a loved one – Losing someone close without any warning causes trauma.
- Physical attacks (including rape, molestation and assault) – Harm to the body through violent means leaves a lasting psychological impression.
- Childhood abuse – Even if not consciously realized, abuse during formative childhood years can resurface years later as PTSD.
The first and most difficult step in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD is the individual’s personal choice, or capability, to identify the need for help. For example, in the case of soldiers, while one in three returning soldiers has PTSD, only 40% will actually seek treatment. Diagnosis of PTSD in children can be challenging for a variety of factors. In 2014, 6.6 million children were referred to protective services as the victims of neglect or physical or sexual abuse — a defining cause of PTSD in children. Symptoms of PTSD in children can be mistaken by teachers and other care providers as challenging personalities, or cognitive delays. Trauma symptoms can affect all aspects of a child’s development.
The diagnosis of PTSD is often difficult and can go unidentified, but PTSD mental health care professionals look for three specific symptoms when diagnosing a client:
- Re-Experiencing the Incident
A person re-experiences the traumatic event through disturbing memories, recurrent nightmares, experiencing feelings as if the event is reoccurring, and some types of mental and physical distress when reminded of the event.
Ways in which the person attempts to avoid any aspect associated with the event, sometimes including a ‘numbing’ effect, where any response to the event is deadened. Avoidant symptoms can include avoiding thoughts, people or situations, losing a memory of the event, lessened interest in previously-enjoyed activities, feelings of disconnection, having a limited emotional range, and having a lessened view of the future.
- Increased Arousal
Similar to the symptoms associated with panic attacks and anxiety, these can include concentration difficulty, extreme suspicion or wariness, outburst of anger and irritability, insomnia, and being easily frightened.
Excellent treatment options are available today for those dealing with PTSD. A variety of therapies are implemented by mental health counselors and therapists, including:
- Cognitive Therapy – Through Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), the therapist attempts to help the client recognize and alter how he or she thinks about the traumatic event and its aftermath. The goal in this type of therapy is to see how thoughts about the event evoke stress and ultimately affect symptoms. Identifying fear-inducing thoughts is critical to the healing process, and a counselor will assist the client in learning to substitute the stressful thoughts with a more positive way of thinking, including letting go of any guilt associated with the event.
- EDMR – Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR) assists in altering the reactions to memories of the event. Through bilateral stimulation of the brain, EMDR allows the client to lessen the sensorial and emotional impact of the trauma while reprocessing and connecting to resources and strengths. Studies have shown this type of therapy lessens the symptoms involved with PTSD.
- Group therapy – Talking with others who have experienced similar traumas is often a preferred method of treatment, as it doesn’t make the client feel spotlighted. It also encourages clients to build relationships with other individuals who have a more personal understanding of what the events and feelings of the client.
- Family therapy – PTSD affects everyone in the home, and participating in therapy with those closest to the client can provide a much-needed support system, as well as encouragement for overcoming the disorder.
The Need for Qualified PTSD Counselors
The number of people affected by PTSD grows daily as people experience: car accidents, plane crashes, natural disasters, sexual assault, abuse, deployment and reintegration, terrorist attacks, kidnappings, the sudden death of a loved one, or physical attacks. Consider that there was a 14.6 percent increase in CPS referrals in four years, representing just over 500,000 children, and that up to 21% of them will develop PTSD as a result of their circumstances. Furthermore, in 2012, suicide deaths among U.S. Army active duty and reserve personnel in 2012 was higher than the total combined military fatalities from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan over the same timeframe. If left untreated, PTSD can have devastating effects — it ruins work and family relationships, marriages, overall health, and everyday life. The battle against PTSD has begun, but the necessity for capable and dedicated mental health professionals is needed now more than ever.
Want a Career in Mental Health Counseling?
If you are ready to find your own place in the mental healthcare sector, Antioch University, a regionally accredited university, offers a clinical mental health counseling degree. Small class sizes and a supportive environment challenge students to achieve their full potential for service to others.
Call (855) 792-1049 to speak with an Admissions Adviser, or request more information about the online MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program.