Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Successful Treatment with Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by a traumatic event. A traumatic instance can include experiences ranging from sexual assault, to natural disaster, to combat situations for soldiers. PTSD symptoms are similar to what anyone suffering the emotional stress of a recent traumatic event might suffer. The key difference is in the duration of the symptoms. Typically, these symptoms, will last for three months or less. The symptoms of PTSD are structured in three categories:

Reliving the Trauma:

  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Intrusive memories of the trauma
  • Flashbacks — reliving the trauma over and over

Avoidance Symptoms:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event

Hyperarousal Symptoms:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or "on edge"
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Angry outbursts
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety, like a racing heart or sweating

What is Prolonged Exposure?

Research has validated to a method of treatment, Prolonged Exposure, that leads to a major improvement in patients suffering from PTSD.

Prolonged exposure is a treatment developed by Dr. Edna Foa and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania that helps the individual overcome their anxiety head on. The treatment has four elements:

  1. Education on the therapy: The patient is educated on common trauma reactions and PTSD. This process helps them understand their symptoms and the overall goals of their treatment.
  2. Breathing techniques: Often when trauma occurs or someone with PTSD is reliving the trauma, their breathing pattern and speed changes. Learning to control the way their breathing can help people mitigate the immediate stress, lessening its impact.
  3. Real-world application: In many cases, PTSD sufferers will avoid doing things that may be linked to their trauma, for example someone who served overseas and had their convoy bombed may not want to drive, or someone who has experienced sexual assault may avoid any situation that could provide intimacy with another person. Real world therapy helps them to confront the anxiety in a safe way that has no risk of further trauma. Over time this helps reduce the stress and helps them regain control.
  4. Talking through the trauma: This part of the process is talking about the trauma over and over with a therapist, which helps the person with PTSD gain control over the thoughts and feelings associated with the event. This has been the show to reduce stress and eliminate the fear of the memories of the traumatic event.

Who is Affected by PTSD?

Anyone that experiences a traumatic event in their life can suffer from PTSD, men, women, Black, Hispanic, White are all affected by PTSD. Women however are more likely to get PTSD with studies showing that 20 percent of women may suffer PTSD in their lifetime. Compared to men at eight percent, there is a large difference. 60 percent of American adults will suffer some form of trauma over the course of their life. One reason that women are considered higher risk for PTSD is they at higher risk of suffering some form of sexual assault over their lifetime then men, one of the traumatic events that can trigger PTSD.

Does Prolonged Exposure Therapy Work?

In a simple answer, yes. PE has been shown to be the most effective treatment for PTSD over medication and other forms of therapy. One of the advantages to PE is that it can be adapted to an individual's therapy needs and in the hands of a trained therapist can instill confidence in the sufferer that they can again mastery over their PTSD. It has been shown to improve 80% of PTSD patients that have suffered any number of traumas, including combat, sexual assault, accidents, natural disasters and child abuse, among others. PE is a short-term treatment, with most people showing improvment or recovery after just 10-15 sessions.

It has been developed, studied and modified for over twenty years and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has adopted it as one of their measures to help returning soldiers from combat situations deal with PTSD, an increasing need as soldiers are returned from overseas and re-integrated into society. This can be a difficult process for men and women that have spent months, even years, in high-intensity constant state of alert situations that occur in combat.

How Do You Find Out if You Have PTSD?

If someone is really concerned about trauma and its ongoing effects, they should find a properly trained therapist for a through a proper evaluation and diagnosis. Contact us to establish a treatment plan to help deal with PTSD.

Contact Us & Directions

Behavioral Wellness Clinic
912 Lily Creek Road
Suite 201
Louisville, KY 40243

Office: (502) 338-0608
OCD Clinic: (502) 403-7818
Fax: (502) 245-1888
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Clinical Director: Cheri Levinson, PhD
Office Manager: Jasmine Fairfax