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July 17, 2024

Do I Have Trauma or PTSD?

Learn about the relationship between PTSD & trauma and their profound impact on mental health. We’ll define trauma, explore PTSD’s signs & symptoms, and share the evidence-based treatments like Cognitive Processing Therapy that lead to healing.

Sofia Noori, MD, MPH
Do I Have Trauma or PTSD?

Trauma is exposure to an event that poses actual or threatened death or injury and overwhelms an individual's ability to cope. Whether stemming from a singular event, like a natural disaster or accident, or prolonged exposure to stressors such as abuse or neglect, trauma significantly influences one's psychological, emotional, and physical well-being.

Trauma can manifest in various forms, including acute, chronic, or complex. Acute trauma results from a single distressing event, while chronic trauma arises from repeated exposure to stressors. Complex trauma involves multiple traumatic events, often interwoven and deeply impacting a person's development and functioning.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a condition that may develop following exposure to a traumatic event and is characterized by prolonged and severe reactions. Trauma affects individuals far beyond the immediate aftermath of the event, disrupting daily life and diminishing their quality of life through symptoms that persist long after the event.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, individuals must exhibit specific symptoms, including intrusive thoughts and/or memories, avoidance of trauma-related triggers, negative changes in mood and cognition, and hyperarousal. These symptoms must last for more than a month and significantly impair various aspects of life.

Understanding the Differences Between Trauma and PTSD

While trauma is a natural response to a distressing event, PTSD is a diagnosable condition characterized by the longevity and severity of its impact. Not all who experience trauma will develop PTSD — in fact, research shows about 20% of people who endure trauma will go on to develop the diagnosis, which is a prolonged, complex reaction that requires professional treatment.

The Impact of Trauma on Mental Health

Trauma, an overwhelming experience that surpasses an individual's coping mechanisms, can manifest through a spectrum of psychological symptoms. These include, but are not limited to, anxiety, depression, irritability, and concentration difficulties. The repercussions of trauma extend beyond immediate emotional distress; they undermine the foundational sense of safety and trust, complicating the ability to form and sustain relationships. Moreover, individuals facing trauma might adopt maladaptive coping strategies, such as substance misuse or self-injurious behavior, in an attempt to alleviate their emotional burden. This, coupled with a significant blow to self-esteem and overall quality of life underscores the necessity for understanding and addressing trauma with sensitivity and clinical expertise.

The Impact of PTSD on Mental Health

PTSD leaves a profound imprint on mental health: individuals grappling with PTSD frequently endure vivid and unsettling flashbacks or nightmares of their traumatic experiences, prompting avoidance of triggers and social withdrawal.

This disorder is further characterized by marked alterations in mood and cognition, fostering negative perceptions about oneself and the surrounding world. Heightened arousal or a state of constant vigilance against perceived threats disrupts normalcy and can make daily tasks and interactions challenging.

Symptoms of Trauma

Trauma and PTSD share common symptomatology, yet PTSD symptoms are typically more severe and enduring and can also include pervasive negative thoughts, emotional numbness, irritability, concentration issues, and sleep disturbances. Identifying symptoms of PTSD can be facilitated by specialized assessments that can guide individuals toward appropriate therapeutic interventions, underscoring the importance of accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment planning.

Evidence-Based Treatment for PTSD

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a cornerstone in PTSD treatment, is an  evidence-based care technique that is structured and rooted in a cognitive-behavioral approach. By encouraging patients to confront rather than avoid their traumatic memories, CPT facilitates a critical reevaluation of the trauma and its ongoing impact on one’s thoughts and feelings.

Notable for its efficacy in ameliorating PTSD symptoms, CPT can significantly enhance quality of life through cognitive reframing techniques. Research, including studies like those by Resick et al. (2017), demonstrates CPT's effectiveness, highlighting its capacity to empower individuals by reshaping their perceptions of trauma.

CPT's adaptability ensures it can be applied across diverse patient profiles, offering both individual and group therapy formats over a span of 7-15 sessions. This flexibility, coupled with the inclusion of practical homework assignments, promotes the integration of therapeutic gains into daily life, cementing CPT's status as a preferred treatment modality for PTSD.

Acknowledging the need for help in the wake of trauma or PTSD is a courageous first step towards healing. Engaging with mental health professionals can unlock personalized care pathways, including advanced treatments like CPT, to navigate the complexities of these conditions effectively.

Seeking Professional Help for Trauma and PTSD

Mental health experts should be equipped to offer a comprehensive assessment, accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan tailored to the unique needs of each individual. After receiving evidence-based treatment like CPT, which Nema provides, most patients see a reduction of symptoms and no longer meet the criteria for PTSD. We are here to reinstill hope that PTSD does not need to be a lifelong disorder and there is hope for all survivors.

At Nema, our clinicians are trained in the most effective trauma treatments including Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and other supportive therapies. If you're interested in learning more, schedule a free call with our team here