PTSD Signs, Symptoms, and When to Seek Help

ptsd Feb 08, 2023

By Sarah C. Smith-Trawick, LCSW-C 

EMDRIA Approved Consultant

Have you noticed how trauma seems to be everywhere these days?

By now, most clinicians are familiar with “Big T” traumas such as a car accident, an assault, a natural disaster, or even the death of a significant person in your life.

Are you familiar with “Small t” traumas which could include the loss of a job, a divorce, or infidelity in a romantic relationship?

Traumatic events can also include other persistent adverse experiences including poverty, neglect, community or household violence, and growing up in a home where a caregiver suffers from mental health challenges or substance abuse. We each have our own unique ways of responding to events that overwhelm our system. These events (or series of events) can sometimes alter our worldview and our view of ourselves. What is traumatic to one person may not be considered traumatic to another person. Additionally, while we all might experience symptoms of acute stress as we adjust in the aftermath of the traumatic event(s), not everyone will develop the long terms effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a diagnostic label for the set of criteria that reflect one’s difficulty in the aftermath of traumatic events.

So, what are the symptoms of PTSD? What should we be on the lookout for?

PTSD signs and symptoms include but are not limited to the presence of any of the following symptoms as they relate to the sufferer’s traumatic event(s):

Intrusive symptoms:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks and other dissociative reactions
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Severe emotional distress or PTSD physical symptoms or reaction to anything that reminds you of the event(s). 

Avoidant symptoms:

  • Effort to avoid internal reminders of the event, such as thoughts and feelings, including body sensations
  • Effort to avoid external reminders, such as the place, activities, and/or people associated with the traumatic event(s).

Negative alterations of cognition and mood associated with the traumatic event(s):

  • Inability to remember certain aspects of the event(s)
  • Negative beliefs about the world, others, and/or oneself
  • Persistent distorted beliefs about the cause of the traumatic event(s)
  • Lack of interest and engagement in activities
  • Feeling detached or disconnected from others or oneself
  • Persistent negative mood states, such as horror, fear, anger, and guilt
  • Inability to experience positive emotions, such as happiness, satisfaction, and loving feelings

Alterations in reactivity and arousal states: 

  • Irritable or angry outbursts with seemingly little prompting
  • Self-destructive or reckless behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Heightened startle response
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating

Not everyone experiences the same proportion of symptoms. For example, in my clinical work, I have noticed that people experience more symptoms in the last two categories when they have experienced persistent, ongoing adverse circumstances and abuse in childhood, thus often leading providers to miss the origin of their mental health symptoms and leave their PTSD untreated.

When should someone seek PTSD treatment?

My answer to this question has always been “as soon as possible.” The timing of “as soon as possible” includes factoring in the client's readiness to seek help as well as the availability of an EMDR-trained clinician.

Why an EMDR-trained clinician?

EMDR-trained clinicians are uniquely positioned to provide treatment that includes addressing somatic manifestations of trauma symptoms.

Is EMDR the only way?

No, it isn’t, but at a minimum, clients should be looking for a clinician who is able to address, and heal, somatic symptoms of trauma. As an EMDR therapist, I have seen how early intervention can prevent symptoms of PTSD from lingering when EMDR is provided shortly after a traumatic event. 

I have also seen how those who have suffered from PTSD symptoms for years have also experienced significant alleviation of symptoms when they were finally able to connect with an EMDR therapist with the robust tools needed in order to support stabilization (think Phase 2 of EMDR) and the ability to titrate Phases 4-8 (think EMDR, EMD, pendulation, etc). If you have not already completed a Basic Training course in EMDR, please join us at one of our upcoming sessions!

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