Written by: Carl Puleo, LPCA
Client: What is PTSD? What do the letters stand for?
Therapist: PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Client: Okay. So what does that mean?
Therapist: Well, let’s break it down. Post means “after”. If an event occurs, let’s say a wedding, any events that happen afterward could be referred to as post-wedding.
Client: A wedding doesn’t seem to be that traumatic.
Therapist: It’s just an example, stay with me.
Client: So what does the word traumatic mean in PTSD?
Therapist: A trauma, as defined within PTSD is exposure to an actual or threatened death, or a serious injury, or even sexual violence like a rape or child molestation.
Client: But what if I never had any of those experiences personally, could I still get PTSD?
Therapist: Absolutely! Being witness to traumatic events or finding out a loved one has experienced a trauma can lead to PTSD.
Client: How would I know if I had PTSD?
Therapist: Good question. Some of the symptoms include recurrent and involuntary distressing memories, nightmares, and flashbacks associated with a traumatic event. A lot of people with PTSD tend to avoid anything that might trigger their symptoms. It can even cause people to think negatively and become emotionally detached from others.
Client: I suppose that’s why the S stands for stress. It must be really stressful to have PTSD.
Therapist: The stress in PTSD is more than just your average everyday stress. The body’s nervous system that controls our sense of danger called the “fight or flight” system is constantly running which can lead to significant health problems and persistent problems dealing with moods. It is called a disorder because one’s life is completely out of order.
Client: Wow! What can someone do who has PTSD?
Therapist: The first thing to do is to get with a mental health professional. A counselor who has been trained in trauma therapy can help someone learn to overcome their PTSD and go on to live a healthy life. In the meantime, it would be a good idea to start practicing relaxation skills like deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation as a start.
Client: Why is that important?
Therapist: The body cannot experience stress or anxiety in a relaxed body state. So learning how to relax your body is the first step in the process of overcoming PTSD.
Client: So, let me see if I got this. PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It happens any time someone has either experienced or witnessed an actual or near death event or some other significant horrible situation that causes them to relive the event in memories, nightmares, and flashbacks, and it causes them to experience negative thoughts and moods.
Therapist: That’s sounds about right.
Client: And, people can overcome PTSD with therapy and learning how to relax their bodies. Is that right?
Therapist: You got it.