Takeaway: PTSD is a serious mental health condition that can be developed following a traumatic event. Seattle trauma therapists use several different evidence-based treatments to help people find relief and improve their quality of life. Here, we'll discuss the symptomatology of PTSD as well as the clinically proven therapeutic modalities that can aid recovery.
Trauma refers to the psychological and emotional reactions that may follow a terrible or life-threatening event. Common examples of traumatic events include:
Experiencing trauma is highly common. Results from the World Mental Health Survey Consortium found that 70 percent of respondents have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Nearly a third of respondents experienced multiple events: four or more.
The frequency and duration of trauma can impact its effects. Many of the examples listed above are considered single-event trauma. This term refers to isolated traumatic events. Complex trauma, however, can result from chronic traumatic events that occur over months or years.
Complex trauma develops when the limbic system is consistently activated. In other words, the brain can undergo significant changes when a person is constantly in "survival mode." The concept was first introduced by researcher Judith Lewis Herman in 1992.
There is some overlap between single-event and complex trauma. However, complex trauma seems to have deeper, longer-lasting effects on a person's mood, behavior, and relationships. Experts are still studying its causes and effects.
Many people experience traumatic events. Yet, only approximately 6.8 percent of the U.S. population develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of unresolved trauma. There are no definitive indicators for which trauma survivors will develop PTSD. However, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) currently identifies a number of risk factors:
These risk factors do not guarantee that a person will develop PTSD. People of any age, background, or socioeconomic status can be affected. Common symptoms include:
PTSD symptoms must be present for longer than one month in order to meet the criteria for diagnosis. Many people develop symptoms within three months of the traumatic event. Others will develop symptoms much later. During the differential diagnosis process, clinicians will rule out other disorders such as substance use disorders, mood disorders, or anxiety disorders.
Trauma has a significant impact on the nervous system. Research shows that PTSD symptoms can result from changes to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis following trauma. This can cause abnormally high levels of cortisol. Hyperarousal symptoms such as exaggerated startle response, hypervigilance, and agitation can result.
This is likely related to changes in the amygdala. The amygdala's ability to activate the arousal system is heightened following trauma. This can impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, resulting in difficulty with emotional regulation, decision-making, and working memory.
These neurobiological changes demonstrate the brain's innate ability to evolve. Neuroplasticity can also aid in recovery. There are many evidence-based treatments for PTSD that draw upon the neuroplastic nature of the brain.
There have been significant advances in the treatment of PTSD. Several options exist for patients to find relief from symptoms, increase their functioning, and improve their quality of life.
The American Psychological Association (APA)'s Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of PTSD strongly recommends the following interventions.
The APA conditionally recommends the following treatments.
Your clinician will provide a comprehensive mental health evaluation to determine which treatments are indicated for your symptomatology.
Dr. Zacharias is a trauma specialist with a diverse background in research, speaking, publishing, and direct care. He has an intimate understanding of the mechanisms behind post-traumatic stress disorder and the evidence-based methods that support trauma recovery. His training as a psychiatrist enables him to treat clients using a variety of these methods. This includes both psychotherapy and medication when indicated.
Dr. Zacharias has trained at Mayo Clinic, Harvard, Vanderbilt, University of Washington, and Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute. Please review his "About" page for more information about his professional background as well as select honors, awards, and distinctions. His curriculum vitae and peer-reviewed publications include more details about his professional experience.
Beyond his training at prestigious institutions, he also has a passion for building strong interpersonal connections with his patients. He treats the whole person using clinically-proven interventions to help them make meaning of their experiences and find relief from PTSD symptoms.
Dr. Zacharias is an expert in providing trauma-informed, evidence-based care. He also recognizes that each patient is unique. He is committed to partnering with each patient to create a customized treatment plan. Dr. Zacharias' conservative approach means that talk therapy methods will be employed first though medication may be used as needed.
Dr. Zacharias also brings a relational and existential lens to trauma treatment. Exploration of worldview issues alongside other clinically-proven interventions allows for more than symptom relief alone. Making meaning of your experience in a safe and supportive environment supports holistic trauma recovery.
Healing from past trauma is possible. Reach out today for a free consultation to ask questions and learn more about whether Dr. Zacharias is the best Seattle PTSD therapist for you.
Choosing to pursue trauma treatment is a highly personal decision. It's important to reflect on whether you're ready to commit to the process before starting.
Many people have the misconception that symptoms must be severe in order to pursue treatment. This is not the case. Any impact on your quality of life is a sign that you could benefit from trauma therapy. This could range from significant symptoms like nightmares, intrusive memories, and severe anxiety to more subtle presentations like negative self-talk, frequent upset stomach, and feeling stuck.
Therapy can help whether you had a recent traumatic experience or want to heal from deep-seated chronic stress from childhood. You also don't need an existing diagnosis of PTSD to begin therapy. Your clinician will conduct a diagnostic evaluation at the beginning of treatment.
There are many evidence-based approaches that can help people heal from traumatic experiences. Each Seattle PTSD therapist uses different methods. It's important to find a provider whose approach resonates with you.
Dr. Zacharias takes a humanistic, relational, and existential approach. He also incorporates evidence-based modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), psychodynamic psychotherapy, and FDA-approved psychiatric medications. Other therapists might use techniques like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), or narrative exposure therapy (NET).
Again, trauma treatment and recovery is a highly personalized process. You must reflect on which kind of treatment and clinician is best for you.
Understanding the differences between the types of providers can be a helpful place to start. A psychologist has a doctorate degree in psychology and many hours of supervised practice in therapy.
A psychiatrist (like Dr. Zacharias) is a medical doctor with specialized education in the treatment of mental health issues like PTSD. Psychiatrists also have a significant amount of training and supervised practice. Unlike psychologists, however, psychiatrists are able to prescribe medication when indicated. Read more about Dr. Zacharias' background and professional experience here.
Dr. Zacharias can help whether you feel tense, struggle with intrusive thoughts, or simply want to find more joy after experiencing a traumatic event. He works with trauma survivors to find which evidence-based practices will best help them build meaningful, fulfilling lives.
If you're interested in learning more about Dr. Zacharias' treatment philosophy or have specific questions about how he can help, reach out for a complimentary consultation. We look forward to connecting with you and supporting you along your journey.