Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder, which typically develops after being involved in or witnessing traumatic events. Once believed to only affect those involved in war, PTSD can affect anyone.
What is PTSD?
Feeling fear when facing a scary or potentially dangerous situation is a normal reaction. In fact, this fear is essential to our survival. It triggers reactions in the body which aim to save our life if threatened. This fight or flight reaction is natural and works to protect us.
Most people will experience a number of reactions after facing trauma, though will typically recover a short while after the event. For some people, however, these symptoms do not ease. You may feel frightened, stressed, have flashbacks or experience nightmares longer after the event has passed. It's when these symptoms last longer than a month, do not fade over time, or begin to affect your everyday life, it can be a sign of PTSD and that you might need help and support.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is thought to affect one in every three people who have a traumatic experience. It is not yet clear why some people develop the condition, and others don’t. PTSD can develop immediately after the experience, or it can appear weeks, months, or even years after. It’s never too late to seek help.
What is CPTSD?
Complex post traumatic stress disorder, also referred to as CPTSD, is a type of PTSD that both adults and children can be diagnosed with if they have repeatedly experienced traumatic events. This can include neglect, abuse, or violence. Complex PTSD it thought to be more likely or more severe if the traumatic events experienced happened during your early life, were caused by a parent or caregiver, happened for a long time, took place while you were alone, or if you are still in contact with the person or people responsible for your trauma. Those with complex PTSD may lose their trust in others and feel seperated. It can take years for the symptoms of CPTSD to be recognised.
Symptoms of PTSD
In most cases, symptoms of PTSD will develop during the first month after the event. Though, in some cases, there can be a delay of months or years before symptoms appear.
The types of symptoms and their impacts can vary from person to person. You may find you have long periods of time with minor, less noticeable symptoms, followed by times when your symptoms become more severe or noticible. Or you may have a constant level of severe symptoms that affect your day-to-day activities and life.
Although specific symptoms may vary, there are common PTSD symptoms that many with post traumatic stress will experience. These include:
The most common symptom of PTSD. Re-experiencing is when a person re-lives the triggering event. Re-experiencing typically occurs in the form of vivid flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive and distressing images or sensations, and physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, trembling or and nausea.
You may have constant negative thoughts about what happened, asking yourself questions over and over again. “Why would this happen to me? Should I have stopped it?"
This repeated questioning may prevent you from coming to terms and coping with the event, often leading to feelings of guilt or shame.
Avoidance and emotional numbing
Another key symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is actively trying to avoid any reminders of the trauma. This may mean avoiding certain people or places which are reminders of the event, or avoiding talking to anyone about the experience.
It’s common for people with PTSD to ignore memories, ‘pushing them out of their mind’ by distracting themselves through other things, like work or spending more time on their hobbies.
Other people may try to cope with how they’re feeling by trying to switch off completely. Not feeling anything sometimes seems like the easier option. This is known as emotional numbing. Emotional numbing can result in the person becoming isolated and withdrawn. They lose enjoyment in the things they once enjoyed.
Feeling on edge (hyperarousal)
PTSD can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and difficulty relaxing. Feeling on edge (hyperarousal) is more of a state of mind; you may be constantly aware of danger and threats, and may be be easily startled. This is known as hyperarousal (or feeling ‘on edge’).
Hyperarousal can lead to increased irritability, trouble sleeping, angry outbursts, and difficulty concentrating.
PTSD can have a detrimental effect on a person’s life. As well as the above symptoms, people with PTSD are likely to have other symptoms, related to the condition, such as:
- Experiencing other mental health problems, including anxiety, depression or phobias.
- Physical symptoms, including headaches, chest pains, stomach aches and dizziness.
- Self-harming or destructive behaviour, including drug or alcohol misuse.
Over time, these issues can lead to other problems at work, in your relationships, and can lead to relationship breakdowns. Without the right knowledge and support, dealing with PTSD can be a very lonely time. The condition can in some cases, lead to relationship breakdowns and work-related problems.
If you’re worried, or worried about a loved one, it’s important you seek help. There is plenty of support available for those affected by PTSD and while we know it’s not easy to ask for help, you don’t need to go through this alone.
PTSD symptoms in women
Research suggests that men and women may experience some symptoms of PTSD differently from each other. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD during their lives, are more likely to experience symptoms for longer, and are typically more sensitive to reminders of their trauma. However, researchers have found it typically takes longer for women to receive a diagnosis.
Common symptoms of PTSD for women can include intrusive thoughts, emotional detachment, a sense of guilt, flashbacks, hypervigilance, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest in hobbies, and self-destructive behaviour.
Discover more about the research into how effective hypnotherapy is for treating symptoms of PTSD.
PTSD symptoms in children
Post traumatic stress syndrome can affect people at any age. Children with PTSD may exhibit some of the same symptoms as adults, such as having difficulty sleeping, experiencing distressing nightmares, losing interest in activities, and developing headaches or tummy aches. However there are other symptoms children with young PTSD may exhibit, which can include:
- exhibiting difficult behaviour
- avoiding things related to or that remind them of the traumatic event
- re-enacting traumatic events through play, again and again
What causes PTSD?
Anyone can be affected by PTSD, at any age. You may develop symptoms within the days or weeks after trauma, or it could take years for signs to begin showing. Post traumatic stress disorder may develop after you experience a frightening, life-threatening, or distressing event. It can also occur after a prolonged traumatic experience.
Examples of some events thought to lead to post-traumatic stress disorder include:
- serious road accidents
- violent assault
- prolonged abuse
- military combat
- natural disasters
- witnessing violent deaths or the unexpected injury or death of a loved one
difficult or prolonged childbirth
Who’s at risk?
While it’s unclear why some people may develop the condition and others will not, there are certain factors thought to affect your chances of developing PTSD. According to the NHS, if you’ve had depression or anxiety you may be more susceptible to developing PTSD after a distressing event.
Other risk factors include having little or no social support after the event, having experienced childhood trauma or if you experience extra stress after the event (the death of a loved one, loss of a job etc.).
Children can also be affected by PTSD. They will typically experience similar symptoms to adults, however, there are some symptoms more specific to children, such as bedwetting, separation anxiety or increased worry when away from adults or re-enacting the event through play.
Seeking help for PTSD
After experiencing a particularly distressing event, it’s normal to feel confused and upset. For most people, these upsetting thoughts will ease after a couple of weeks. If you or your child are still experiencing problems four weeks or so after the event, consider visiting your doctor. They will assess your symptoms and feelings and if necessary, refer you to a mental health specialist.
It is never too late to see help for PTSD. Signs and symptoms can appear years after events took place. Speaking with your GP or a mental health professional can help you to process the events, understand your symptoms, and find the right treatment for you.
Common misconceptions about PTSD
There are many common misconceptions and misunderstandings about post traumatic stress disorder. It’s important to note that anyone can get PTSD, not just those who have experienced military service or with combat experience. Similarly, not everyone who experiences PTSD will exhibit signs of anger or violence. While anger and irritability are two common and distressing signs, not everyone with PTSD will experience these.
PTSD does not get better by itself over time. While the prevalence of some symptoms may eb and flow, other symptoms, such as anxiety and avoidance, can continue to grow worse as time goes on. It’s important to remember that PTSD can be treated. While it won’t go away by itself, there are treatments available out there.
Treatment for PTSD
Before seeking help, many people find that gaining an official diagnosis can be helpful to ensure they are searching for and accessing the right treatment options for them. Speaking with your GP is often the first step. They can help to direct you towards services and resources available in your area.
The main treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder are medication and/or psychotherapy (talking therapies).
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy are two types often recommended for PTSD, by themselves or alongside medication. Of course, everyone is different, and how PTSD affects individuals will vary, so the treatment that works for one person, may not be right for you.
We explain more about the recommended treatments for PTSD that may be offered to you.
Watchful waiting is an approach which may be offered if you’ve been experiencing symptoms for less than four weeks, or if your symptoms are relatively mild. It involves self-monitoring, where you keep track of how you feel and your symptoms, to see if things improve. This approach is suggested before you’re offered any treatment. It should include a follow-up appointment within one month of your initial consultation.
Traumatic events and experiences can be very difficult to deal with, especially on your own. Talking about how you feel, confronting your feelings and seeking professional help can be a very effective way of treating PTSD.
What are the most effective therapies for PTSD?
There are currently several talking treatment recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Trauma-focused CBT is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy, specifically adapted for PTSD. CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on what we think and believe, and how these thoughts affect our behaviour. It aims to teach you the skills needs to cope with difficult situations. It is recommended that you have eight to 12 hourly sessions, with at least one session a week.
EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) is a treatment focused on making rapid eye movements while recalling your experience. The idea behind this is that the effect of the rapid eye movements will be similar to the way our brain processes memories and experiences when sleeping. EMDR was specifically created as a treatment to help people living with difficult traumatic memories, including those with PTSD.
If you’re not happy with treatment or you don’t think it’s working, it’s important you tell your doctor or therapist. They should offer you a second course of treatment, or a follow-up appointment to discuss what you expected, what you want to gain from therapy and why you think it hasn’t worked.
Sometimes the first therapist you see won’t be the one for you and that’s OK. It takes time, so if you’re not happy with the treatment, speak up.
For adults with PTSD, NICE also recommends:
- cognitive processing therapy
- narrative exposure therapy
- prolonged exposure therapy
Medication for PTSD isn’t routinely prescribed as treatment. You may be offered medication if you have depression, are experiencing sleeping problems caused by PTSD or you are unable/unwilling to try psychotherapy. If you are offered medication, it will typically be an antidepressant. While PTSD isn’t the same as depression, it has been found to help.
How does hypnotherapy for PTSD work?
Some people find that hypnotherapy can be a helpful tool to cope better with PTSD symptoms. Hypnotherapy, coupled with EMDR in particular, is thought to be an effective way to process troublesome memories of trauma.
Trauma can cause a person to disconnect from their own internal sense of safety. So, the sooner the emotions are managed, the sooner the person will recover. Hypnotherapy can help you cope with the trauma and learn how to regain a sense of control and normality in your life.
The premise behind hypnotherapy is that is aims to access your unconscious and change the negative thoughts that are holding you back. Using the power of suggestion, hypnotherapy works to promote positive change. The suggestions used will depend on your symptoms and what you wish to gain from your sessions. The hypnotherapist will tailor techniques to you, helping you to manage symptoms and recognise potential triggers, as well as changing the way you react towards them.
Can hypnotherapy help someone with PTSD?
Many of us will experience traumatic events during our lives. For those who develop PTSD, they are unable to process that traumatic event. Through hypnotherapy and using hypnosis techniques, you can:
- Achieve a greater sense of relaxation. Using hypnotic trance, a hypnotherapist can guide you and help you to mentally and physically relax. For some who experience PTSD, this can help reduce the intensity of some symptoms, helping them to enter a state of relaxation and achieve a more open mindset that can make it easier to approach other treatment options for PTSD.
- Identify your triggers. The exact triggers for your PTSD symptoms may not be obvious to you. Hypnosis can help you to enter a more relaxed space, which can make it easier to identify additional triggers that you may not have been aware of.
Is hypnotherapy effective for PTSD?
Yes, hypnotherapy has been found to be effective in helping alleviate symptoms of PTSD. A meta-analysis study published in 2015 revealed that hypnosis appears to be effective in alleviating symptoms of PTSD. While there have been fewer studies comparing the effectiveness of hypnotherapy with CBT and psychodynamic psychotherapy when treating PTSD, results have shown that hypnotherapy alone can be as or more successful than psychodynamic psychotherapy.
Finding a hypnotherapist who can help with PTSD
When you’re ready, the first step of your journey will be to find a professional you resonate with. On Hypnotherapy Directory, we have a proof policy in place to ensure all professionals listed with us have provided proof of qualifications and insurance, or membership with a recognised professional body.