All Posts in Category: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

woman wearing mask

Are You Struggling With Covid Stress Syndrome Or Covid PTSD?

Those with mental health concerns often feel like they can’t control the world around them. Sometimes they may feel like they, themselves, are spiraling out of control. Now that we’ve gone through the last year and the challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic, I think most of us can relate to those feelings in some way.

For many people, going through this pandemic means that trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has now become a part of their life. This can be for a variety of reasons.

Maybe you’re a front line worker who is burned out and mentally exhausted. You may have had the personal experience of having had Covid-19. Or, perhaps you’ve had to face the illness and/or passing of someone close to you, due to the disease. Even going through lock downs, losing jobs, and being separated from friends and family for long periods can wreak havoc on our mental health.

No matter the reason, anyone who witnesses or goes through the events surrounding a traumatic, life-threatening illness like Covid-19 may find they have anxiety, depression, or post traumatic stress afterwards.

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How Coronavirus News Coverage Can Activate PTSD

As the world struggles with the global coronavirus pandemic, we are learning how to deal with the “new normal.” Health care workers are going without breaks or days off. Families are coping with layoffs and have been thrown into homeschooling their children. The majority of us are under stay-at-home orders. The outcome of such undue psychological stress creates anxiety and can trigger symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Watching the constant news coverage of the outbreak doesn’t help.

The therapists at the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders have long been concerned about the repetitive exposure to traumatic life events that people get through the internet and television newscasts. Not only are we captive audiences to the trauma, we are often mesmerized by it and can have trouble disconnecting ourselves from the TV set or internet.

Trauma Symptoms In The Wake Of COVID19

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breast cancer awareness ribbon

PTSD In Breast Cancer Survivors

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and pink ribbons abound. Everywhere you look, people are wearing pink and various organizations are engaging in fundraising for cancer research. For survivors of the disease, this outpouring of hope is welcome, but at the same time, these visual reminders of their fight can bring up symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Even though it is best known for affecting war veterans or people who have been through violent events like mass shootings, PTSD is also found in cancer survivors. “It’s common for cancer patients, even if they don’t have full-blown PTSD, to have some of the symptoms of it,” says Fremonta Meyer, MD, of Dana-Farber’s department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care.

The color pink isn’t the only thing that can trigger PTSD in breast cancer survivors. Simple actions such as driving past their treatment centers or seeing cancer care commercials on the television can do it, as can hearing about someone else’s diagnosis (or breast cancer scare).

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Dissociative Identity Disorder

When a person goes through an overwhelmingly traumatic experience, it is common to dissociate from it if it is too distressing to remember. For example, physical or sexual abuse might trigger detachment, the same way that going through an event such as the recent mass shooting at the Las Vegas concert may cause a survivor to “blank out” the memory that is causing emotional pain. For some individuals, however, their distress is so severe they may not be able to connect with their memories, feelings or even to their own sense of identity. These people likely have Dissociative Identity Disorder.

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Post-Traumatic Growth

Post-Traumatic Growth

Emotional trauma or psychological trauma is a reaction to an experience or event that is deeply distressing or disturbing to the individual. Trauma can be the result of things such as going through a natural disaster, being involved in a car accident, living through a major event, such as war or abuse, or having been the victim of a crime. A trauma response will be similar no matter what caused it.

When people experience a psychological trauma, it often shakes them to their core, especially if they felt they had little to no control over the event. They are left feeling helpless and they may experience flashbacks or have a persistent fear that something bad will happen to them again.

Even though these emotional responses are part of a normal reaction, trauma changes patterns in your brain, causing you to carry the burden of distress long after the events have passed. However, by working with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma, you can experience trauma recovery and learn to feel safe again.

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What is Trauma?

What is Trauma

In general, trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. When loosely applied, this trauma definition can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. However, it can also encompass the far extreme and include experiences that are severely damaging, such as rape or torture.

Because events are viewed subjectively, this broad trauma definition is more of a guideline. Everyone processes a traumatic event differently because we all face them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. For example: one person might be upset and fearful after going through a hurricane, but someone else might have lost family and barely escaped from a flooded home during Hurricane Katrina. In this case, a minor Category One hurricane may bring up traumatic flashbacks of their terrifying experience.

Because trauma reactions fall across a wide spectrum, psychologists have developed categories as a way to differentiate between types of trauma. Among them are complex trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and developmental trauma disorder.

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Complex Trauma Disorder

Trauma can come in many forms. The soldier returning from active duty in a war zone, the child who lives with physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect, the first responder who must deal with human suffering on a daily basis, and the adult who endures domestic abuse all are experiencing trauma. Complex trauma occurs repeatedly and often involves direct harm to the victim. Its effects are cumulative and generally transpire in a specific setting and, frequently, within a particular time frame or within a specific relationship.

Going through trauma can make an individual experience intense feelings of guilt, as if they are somehow responsible for the event(s) that are so terrifying to them. This altered sense of shame and painful self-perception is crippling. It can make the person feel isolated and hopeless, and as if they are no longer in charge of themselves.

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Announcing Trauma Institute at the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders

The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders is proud to announce the opening of our Trauma Center and Resiliency Program. We provide trauma-informed and specialized outpatient mental health and consultation services to survivors or victims of recent, current or past trauma.

A traumatic or adverse experience is one that can be described as something that happens to us that shakes us up deeply and from which we have a hard time healing, or being able to “get through.” These may be referred to as emotional trauma, mental trauma, psychological trauma, or by other terms.

Examples of traumatic experiences include, but are not limited to surviving a natural disaster, major accidents, facing chronic or terminal illness, domestic violence, sudden death of a loved one, racism and homophobia, childhood abuse, and interpersonal partner abuse.

Our team of psychologists and psychiatrists will collaborate fully in order to understand your needs, recommend an individually tailored treatment plan, coordinate your care, and provide you with state-of-the-art, high-quality services. We offer services in English as well as in Spanish.

Find out more about the Trauma Center and Resiliency Program here.

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Using Virtual Reality Therapy for Phobias

 

What would you think if you had a phobia about something (example: a fear of flying) and you could overcome your fear just by sitting in your therapist’s office and watching a movie? We think you’d sign up for that! Okay, it’s not entirely that simple (although it almost is), but virtual reality therapy for phobias is now giving patients a high-tech, cutting-edge solution for helping them get past their fears so they can live a better life.

How Does Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Work?

Many types of phobias can be overcome or greatly reduced when the sufferer goes through cognitive behavioral therapy. In this type of therapy, a patient learns to recognize the thoughts causing the negative feelings surrounding their fears. Once these thoughts are identified, the patient learns how to replace those undesirable beliefs with more positive ones.

In-vivo exposure therapy goes hand in hand with cognitive behavioral therapy. With in-vivo exposure, the patient experiences what they fear in a controlled way and in small doses. By taking small steps, they can confront and gradually conquer their phobia.

Virtual reality exposure therapy combines the best of cognitive behavior therapy and in-vivo exposure. It allows people to work through their fears in a realistic environment without actually leaving the comfort and safety of their therapist’s office.

Virtual Reality Therapy

In the case of the fear of flying phobia mentioned above, a patient comes to our office, sits in a comfortable chair, and puts on a pair of virtual reality therapy goggles. In conjunction with coaching from their therapist, they view a simulation of the inside of an airplane’s passenger compartment and can look around to see all aspects of the interior.

The patient not only sees the plane, they also hear the same sounds they would experience if they were really on a flight, such as the flight attendant’s announcement or the rumble of airplane engines. Additionally, our virtual reality therapy chair vibrates with the motion of the plane “taking off” or “flying” to provide an even more convincing simulation.

Even if a person knows the virtual reality program isn’t completely realistic, there is enough realism in it to trigger their emotional responses to their phobia. And, by working through these reactions, in some types of phobias or traumas, nearly 83 percent of people who have tried virtual reality therapy have managed to put their fears behind them.

Virtual Reality Therapy Benefits

Some of the benefits of virtual reality therapy include:

  • Allowing the patient to try the therapy without as much anxiety. For example: in the case of a phobia about flying, it is much easier for someone to agree to try working through their fears in an office than to have to force themselves to physically go to the place they know will bring an emotional reaction.
  • Experiencing the phobia and/or its triggers without taking the time to travel to an actual location. For the fear of flying phobia, you simply sit in a chair, rather than going to the airport numerous times for several small exposures to your triggers.
  • Confidentiality for the patient: you don’t have to face potential embarrassment by running into someone you know or possibly becoming upset in a public area.
  • The therapist can carefully control the situation, meaning if you are afraid of elevators or airplanes, you don’t have to get in one. Virtual reality exposure therapy allows you to feel as if you are in a location, but the therapist can stop the program if you become truly upset.
  • The therapy is more realistic, in that you can go places or experience things you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to (you can’t get on and off an airplane as part of your flying phobia therapy, for instance). That being said, it is much safer than the real-life setting and minimizes any risk involved.
  • Virtual reality exposure therapy sessions are shorter than those that require you to visit an actual site for therapy (so, there is no travel time from the therapist’s office to the airport for our fear of flying scenario.)
  • Sessions can be repeated several times until the patient has conquered that portion of their phobia and is ready to move on to another phase.

Studies show this treatment has a powerful real-life impact and a great track record, over time. Virtual reality therapy has been successful in treating both children and adults for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), social anxiety, panic disorder, anxiety disorder, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and phobias. It is also a very effective tool for treating children who suffer from phobias such as school phobia or sleep fears.

Do You Have Questions About Virtual Reality Therapy?

Virtual Reality Therapy is coming to our practice very soon. For more information or to find out when it becomes available, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Media-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Veterans of the Vietnam war have sadly raised our awareness of the existence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a chronic, sometimes lifelong condition resulting in pathological changes in mood, thinking and behavior. It can be incapacitating and lead to job loss, family turmoil and dissolution, poor quality of life and often suicide.

We now understand that the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has its basis in enduring alterations of brain function, which helps to explain the chronic, persistent nature of this disorder. Treatment can be helpful but frustratingly inadequate. Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” medication. Research has supported the use of specific psychotherapeutic protocols but community availability can be a problem.

While PTSD’s origins stemmed from war related trauma, we now understand that a wide spectrum of life stressors can result in this disorder. The twenty-first century has brought terror attacks to the world stage. “Lone wolf” attacks, Islamic terrorism, and most recently, violence against the police have become a national preoccupation. In previous decades, our awareness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was based on either our familiarity with individuals suffering from this disorder or the occasional print news article. However, the media technology revolution of our current century has brought us both the blessing and curse of 24/7 connectivity to world and national events.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  and Media Coverage of Traumatic Events

For several years, the therapists at the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders have been very concerned about the repetitive exposure to traumatic life events that people experience via internet and television broadcasts. Recent terror attacks around the world are cases in point, for one cannot avoid the media’s persistent replaying of the visual imagery and dramatic accounts of these human tragedies.

Before the media revolution we learned of traumatic events through the newspaper, the 6:00 pm news, or the news hour on the radio. One only has to recall the steady calm recitation of bad news by the likes of Walter Cronkite and compare it to the present day dramatic and horrifying presentation of similar news stories. Clearly, horror sells and is profitable. We have become captive audiences for this traumatic exposure. To make matters worse, we are transfixed by it and have difficulty “unplugging” ourselves from the TV set or internet.

This brings our therapists to their greatest clinical concern. Repetitive exposure to graphic trauma has an impact on our central nervous systems. Even though we may not be the victim of the terror, we are passively being terrorized. Adults have a greater capacity to process such horror, but imagine the difficulties this creates for our children. Their immature nervous systems and reasoning ability pose significant obstacles for coping with this type of daily non-stop life stress. We fear that we are all becoming victims, in our own way, of the “madness” we are being exposed to.

We have a responsibility to control our children’s exposure to traumatic media and to prevent the damage that can result. As adults, we should heed this advice, as well. Ultimately, we must change the way that public media communicates traumatic events, however, this is easier said than done.

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