Anybody can be impacted by Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS)

Post Traumatic Stress is very real and can impact soldiers and civilians alike.  Things like combat, terrorism, and natural disaster are not the only ways to experience it. Major life changes like job loss, divorce, and loss of loved ones often result in PTS symptoms (sometimes mistakenly referred to as PTSD . . . the ‘D’ stands for Disorder; PTS is not a disorder in and of itself; if not resolved, however, it can meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD). If you are uncertain, please get in touch.

Very often, survivors of abuse, veterans, and crisis responders (police, fire, and EMS) are also deeply impacted and seek out this highly specialized form of assistance.

Trauma and Crisis Counseling

I received Advanced Certification by the International Critical Incident Foundation in 1998 and have responded to hundreds of critical incidents around the United States. I have also trained new trauma specialists who have also provided international support to hundreds of trauma survivors.

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress

While we all experience trauma, grief, etc. in our own unique ways, there are several trends that seem to be rather consistent across traumatic experiences. Beginning with shock, denial and sometimes even repression of the experience, the symptoms of traumatic stress will also include other cognitive, behavioral, physical and emotional symptoms. Appetite and sleep fluctuation, irritability, depression, fear and recurring images (flashbacks) are common. More severe symptoms may include chronic depression, phobic reactions to triggers of memories, job loss, physical decline and major personality changes.

Trauma Counseling Austin Tx

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What to expect from Post Traumatic Stress

When tragedy strikes, it is rarely expected or planned for. Usually, it comes in the form of unexpected trauma ranging from natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes to the unfathomable tragedies of 9-11 terrorism. As human beings, we are equipped to handle these tragedies, but we must understand that part of what tells us we need help is the intense, and often shocking, distress that follows. If not addressed, these symptoms (often referred to as Critical Incident Stress or Post Traumatic Stress) may linger for months or even years, needlessly complicating our lives, and worrying our loved ones who may feel helpless when trying to ease our pain.

What to do

While some people may be able to effectively manage their traumatic stress without counseling or traumatic stress management/debriefing, it is always best to talk to a professional if you have any hesitation at all–it is worth the time and expense to put your mind at ease; remember, some of the manifestations of traumatic stress can be subtle as they stay inside and fester only to show up later as more distressing symptoms.

In order to deal with traumatic stress effectively, it is suggested that you contact a credentialed Critical Incident Stress Management professional within the first 24-72 hours to begin the process of bringing structure to the chaos of tragedy aftermath. Your healing may involve both group debriefings and individual counseling, as well as ongoing aftercare for a few weeks, or as long as you feel is necessary.

If you know somebody that has been through a crisis or trauma

First, please understand that people who have been through a trauma do not have a “Disorder.” The Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) simply becomes a part of their survival. They can, and will, work through it. You can be a part of their recovery from this “invisible wound” by:

  • Follow their lead. Be there if they ask for help.
  • Do NOT ask for details; this can traumatize you (called Secondary Trauma, or Vicarious Trauma) and re-traumatize them by bringing the pain back up for them.
  • Be reassuring, help them remember what they can do: exercise, be social (careful about alcohol though), play music, read a book, anything that helps them unwind. Even offer to do this with them.
  • If they would like to talk about how they feel, or about the situation, be sure that you are clear about your limits. They will be appreciative that they know you will be honest with them. If you do feel upset by anything, be sure you reach out for help as well.
  • Offer to bring them something they need: a meal, a book, yourself, etc. However, do not treat them as if they are incapable of caring for themselves.
  • Just love them by being a good friend and/or family member.

Helpful tips if you have been impacted by PTS

Here are some suggestions for things to try after surviving a tragedy (these may also be used as suggestions for loved ones that are struggling):

  • Try to remember, it is OK to feel rotten about a rotten situation.
  • As you feel ready, begin to bring normalcy back to your life by doing things that you used to do before the trauma.
  • Exercise and follow a healthy diet (talk to your doctor!).
  • Talk to your friends and family.
  • Talk with a professional counselor (preferably Critical Incident trained).
  • Practice meditation, relaxation, gentle, relaxed breathing.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Attempt to find something that you can learn from the trauma (i.e., how to prepare for a tornado, how to perform 1st aid and CPR, learn self-defense).

Post Traumatic Stress FAQ's

Do you have to be a combat veteran to experience PTS or PTSD?

No. And remember, dealing with PTS does not automatically mean that you have a disorder. Post Traumatic Stress, its more extreme sibling Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder can be triggered by relationship loss, major life changes, job change or loss, natural disaster, child abuse, or even just hearing about a traumatic situation like a school shooting. The key lesson is that traumatic stress can be dealt with and should not be ignored.

Is PTS or PTSD permanent?

Not usually. Being the more extreme of the two, PTSD can become a lifelong struggle for some, usually when the nature of the trauma is very extreme or long-lasting (some combat veterans, somebody that was imprisoned and tortured, etc.). With proper help though, PTS and PTSD can usually be managed with counseling and some specific techniques like EMDR, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Critical Incident Stress Debriefing/Management; sometimes people will get additional recovery from medication to moderate related depression and anxiety.

Should I try and get somebody dealing with PTS/PTSD to talk about what happened to them?

If they want to talk about it, they will, but generally speaking, it is not a good idea to get them to re-live the experience by describing it because it can re-traumatize them, and you may be traumatized by just hearing about what they went through. If somebody does want to tell you about their struggle, please be honest with them about your limits . . . it is ok to tell them that you’re concerned about them re-living it. You may consider directing them to a trauma specialist or counselor. Most of the time, this will not be an issue as folks typically do not want to get into details; they may, however, want to talk about how they are feeling and how they are trying to move forward. This is a great place to support them.