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Coping with PTSD from Military Service

31 Jan
man having a conversation with psychologist during therapy session

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that people can develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event.1 PTSD can affect anyone at any age. For uniformed military personnel and veterans, there can be a variety of sources that cause PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs highlights war and combat situations, violence and abuse, and disasters and terrorism as possible causes of PTSD, and shares resources for veterans to learn more about caring for themselves after these types of events, whether they happened while in or outside of their time in the military.

In another post here on The W&M Blog, we explored the mental impact of service on veterans, including PTSD, and the resources available to help them. But what are the symptoms of PTSD in veterans and what treatments are available to help them cope?

Symptoms of PTSD

What are the common symptoms of PTSD? According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms can be grouped into four types:2

  • Intrusive memories
    • Includes distressing memories of the traumatic event, flashbacks, dreams or nightmares about the event, and emotional or physical reactions to reminders of the event.
  • Avoidance
    • Includes trying not to think about the event and avoiding places, people, or activities related to the event.
  • Negative changes in mood or thinking
    • Includes negative thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, issues with memory, difficulty maintaining relationships, feeling numb, and difficulty feeling positive emotions.
  • Changes in emotional or physical reactions
    • Includes being jumpy or easily frightened, constantly being on guard against danger, engaging in self-destructive behaviors, having trouble sleeping, having trouble concentrating, being irritable or angry, and feeling immense guilt or shame.

The symptoms listed above can vary in intensity levels, and there is no time limit to when PTSD may appear. Seeing a doctor if symptoms are severe or persist for longer than a month is advised, as getting treatment as soon as possible can help keep symptoms from getting worse.2

The VA notes that a PTSD diagnosis is most often made by a mental health provider through measurement, assessment, or evaluation of the PTSD symptoms. A PTSD screen, which is a short list of questions to see if a person might have PTSD, is a tool that can be used to determine whether or not someone should be assessed further before an official diagnosis is made.

Treating PTSD

The VA shares testimonies of veterans who have sought treatment for PTSD and how treatment helped alleviate symptoms and turn their lives around.3 Because seeking treatment for mental health issues can still be stigmatized, the VA emphasizes that it is not necessary to suffer with PTSD and encourages veterans to reach out for help, as there are proven treatments centered around trauma-focused psychotherapies available. Treatment can be rendered at the VA or at a community mental healthcare provider.

As we discussed in the blog post, “Trauma Counseling for Veterans,” trauma-informed care is an effective framework to successfully treat PTSD. A veteran seeking treatment via trauma-informed care is empowered to work with the healthcare provider to seek solutions. A provider using trauma-informed care will likely choose the best trauma-focused psychotherapy that meets the needs of the patient. Treatment can be rendered at the VA or at a community mental healthcare provider.

The most popular forms of trauma-focused psychotherapy are:4

  • Prolonged Exposure (PE)
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Prolonged Exposure

PE helps take control of their lives by gradually approaching the negative feelings, memories, and situations related to the traumatic event. This type of therapy especially helps patients overcome the avoidance symptoms they have had regarding their trauma, as they work to learn that the memories related to the traumatic event are not dangerous and no longer need to be avoided.5

Cognitive Processing Therapy

CPT helps reframe negative thoughts related to their trauma. It is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that allows patients to challenge beliefs that are not helpful and modify their thoughts about the trauma accordingly.6

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR helps PTSD patients better process their trauma. This treatment has the patient think about the traumatic event while experiencing bilateral stimulation, which requires tracking by the eyes.7 This treatment has been shown to reduce the emotion linked with the memories of the traumatic event.

Choosing a best-fit treatment is a decision that should be made by the provider and the patient. They ideally will work together to identify the treatment that makes the most sense for the symptoms and the needs of the patient.

Specialize in Military and Veterans Counseling to Help Veterans Cope with PTSD and More

Serve the urgent need to help veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues by providing high-quality mental health care to military personnel and veterans through the Military and Veterans Counseling specialization within the Clinical Mental Health Counseling concentration offered online by the William & Mary School of Education. The esteemed faculty of the Online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counseling program help aspiring counselors like you choose the counseling theories and approaches that best fit with your personal and professional strengths and preferences.

Our Military and Veterans Counseling specialization is designed for those who have a passion to give back and serve our military population. Through this specialization, you will gain foundational knowledge about all branches of the military and specific mental health needs within this population. Explore the curriculum to see how the M.Ed. program will help prepare you to engage a diverse clientele. Coursework includes studies of the history and mission of various U.S. military branches, including their values, social structure, chain of command, work ethic, job demands and language.

Sources
  1. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/ptsd_basics.asp
  2. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
  3. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/why_tx.asp
  4. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/tx_basics.asp
  5. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/prolonged-exposure
  6. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/cognitive-processing-therapy
  7. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing