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What Are The Most Effective Ways To Treat PTSD?

Frequency of PTSD

In any given year in the United States, about 5% of adults will have PTSD. In our opinion, the number is higher due to under-reporting and misdiagnoses. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men. About 8%, compared to 4%, will have PTSD at some point in their life.

Again, the numbers are probably higher than we know. About 4% of children under age 18 are exposed to some form of trauma that leads to post-traumatic stress disorder. Of those children and adolescents who have experienced trauma, about 7% are girls, and 2% are boys diagnosed with PTSD.

Two people holding hands

What Are the Best Treatment Options for Treating PTSD?

Over the years, much research has gone into studying Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been the most researched approach over the last several decades. Recently, experts have found more profound ways of treating PTSD.

The consensus is that the idea of only thinking about your trauma differently doesn’t have the long-term impact we would like to see. Modern research shows it is also important and maybe even necessary to go below the head and the intellect and experience the emotions and sensations in the body connected to the specific trauma.

Therapy for PTSD works best when we focus on the thoughts and beliefs of the traumatic event and work with the associated feelings and sensations. Research shows that tapping into the brain’s subcortical structures is imperative. The focus here is on the brain’s limbic system, which can be simplified as the survival part of your nervous system.

When someone is traumatized, this part of the brain becomes hyperactive, which leads to fear and hypervigilance. The brain fears that the same type of thing could happen again and stays on guard by being highly anxious.

Person standing outside happily

How Is Memory Consolidation Used to Treat PTSD?

To set the client up for treatment success, we need to have the client return to the traumatic event to prime or trigger the limbic system. Once this is done, we set the brain up for memory reconsolidation. Memory reconsolidation seeks to alter important aspects of a traumatic memory to make it less impactful, therefore reducing the symptoms of PTSD. This can be done by creating strong contradictions to the original stressful, emotional learning.

An example could be someone who carries shame around a past event thinking it was their fault. Once they learn that they have no control over what happened, and they understand this at a deep level, the memory reconsolidation process begins.

What’s fascinating is this changes the way the memory is stored in the limbic system at the neurochemical level. This is also known as Neuroplasticity, which describes the brain’s ability to form new neural connections to heal from injury, including “injury” of a past traumatic event. So far, we are off to a good start in the healing process. We have tapped into the brain’s ability to make sense of what happened and to let go of limiting beliefs and thought processes.

Therapist talking with their client

What is Somatic Experiencing?

We can take the treatment to an even deeper level by going to the body and processing the sensations and emotions tied to the trauma. This is known as Somatic Experiencing. The main concept here is to process and experience the feelings in a mindful and focused way. In this case, a conservative approach to processing the emotion would be to find where in your body you feel a response to a past event.

The idea is to start by being compassionately curious about where and how you feel. It is important that your therapist helps you not shut down this process but allows you to move as slowly as you need to. By staying mindful, you learn to accept the feeling just as it is with no judgment.

Lastly, you learn to be kind and compassionate towards the part of you that feels this way. We also like to include some self-validation at this point of the process by having the client say to themselves, “Based on what happened, no wonder I can feel this way from time to time.” This gives the traumatized part of the person a sense of grace and understanding which we have seen as an additional source of healing.

Person with their hand over their eyes

Take the First Steps for Treatment of Trauma at Bend Counseling & Biofeedback

Contact BCB Therapy, where we have a team of caring and experienced therapists to help if you're struggling with PTSD or related health concerns such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or depression.

Reach out to us today to make an appointment with one of our counselors for an in-person or virtual appointment in Bend, Oregon.

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