“I don’t think she ever gave a thought to what Howard might be hiding behind his coal-black eyes. No one thought about post-traumatic stress disorder in those days. A man just went to war, waded through his buddies’ blood and guts, killed the men who killed his friends, and then, without fanfare, came home and started a family. To the government and society, this was a simple sequence. No one considered the potential ramifications of witnessing the horrors of war”. Excerpt from Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe
Lisa Cypers Kamen, MA Executive Director, Harvesting Happiness says, “When PTSD transfers from the battlefield to the home, this disorder quickly becomes a family affair. So set an extra plate at dinner tonight; PTSD is joining you.
One of the things I hear time and time again is that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an isolated condition. If you think that’s true, you’re not alone; I used to be one of those people. But when I began working with veterans, I discovered something profound: PTSD affects every person in the sufferer’s life, from spouses to children to extended family to friends. Secondhand trauma is real, and if it lingers untreated, can be just as scarring as having PTSD yourself. For children, the exposure to PTSD is especially toxic.
Children who see their parents struggle with PTSD typically respond one of three ways. Some take on the role of the rescuer, taking on a parental role to compensate for their parent’s difficulties. Other children begin to withdraw when they stop receiving the emotional support they need from mom or day. For a third group of children, the result is secondhand trauma. Through this process, the parent’s horrors become the child’s horrors, and child lives out his parent’s legacy of suffering. Secondhand trauma robs children of their youth, creating a lasting heritage of doubt, mistrust, and a fear of reliving the hurt one’s parent has endured.”
Treatments for PTSD
Several treatment options are available for people experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. Whether it is individual, group, pharmacotherapy (medication) or a combination of these, treatment has been proven to be effective much of the time and can help a person get back to their regular routines and healthy functioning.
This involves meeting one on one with a licensed Psychologist, Social Worker or Mental Health Counselor. Typically these meetings are once a week for an hour and focus on talking about the events, your reactions to them and means of mitigating the effects on your life. The types of modalities therapists use may include:
Behavioral or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This treatment approach looks at ways in which a person thinks about a problem, their learned responses to certain triggers associated with that problem and ways in which their thinking affects their emotional state. This treatment often uses a combination of exposure (deliberately thinking about an event or confronting a trigger) and relaxation training along with cognitive restructuring or changing one’s thoughts or beliefs about an event or trigger. This process tends to “desensitize” a person’s response to reminders of the event so that it no longer carries the same emotional impact. CBT has been well researched and has been shown to be an effective treatment for PTSD.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
This treatment modality uses exposure to the traumatic memory paired with “bilateral stimulation” of the brain by tracking the therapist’s finger or string of lights with the eyes or listening to alternating tones. Current thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and beliefs are activated and the tracking helps to reduce emotional and physiological reaction to the memory. This desensitization helps the person to reprocess their negative beliefs about themselves (for example “It was my fault”) to adaptive, healthy and more accurate beliefs (“I did the best I could”). There have been numerous studies on EMDR over the past fifteen or more years and it has been shown to be a rapid and effective treatment for PTSD.
Group therapy can be very helpful following a traumatic event as it provides a safe and supportive environment in which to discuss a shared experience with others. There is often a felt sense that “nobody understands” and a group can help you to feel less alienated, normalizing your reactions to an abnormal event.
People are often very leery of about medication feeling it signifies that they are “crazy” or out of control. This is, of course, not the case and many people take medication for varying lengths of time following particularly stressful life events. Traumatic events can influence the neurochemistry of the body and brain impacting a person in many ways. Excessive stress hormones can make it difficult to concentrate, relax or even sleep. They can increase blood pressure, muscle tension, skin conductance and general arousal levels. It can impair immune system functioning, making people more vulnerable to illness. Fairly often these changes can lead to depression or anxiety. Medication can be effective in resetting the levels in the brain and may prove to be very helpful for a period of time.
This resource guide was produced at the Trauma Center, with the funding of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA)