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Many people are affected by difficult events every year, but it can take a long time to get the right help. This article explains what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is and how it can be treated.

What is trauma and PTSD?

Trauma is an experience that is so shocking and painful that you find it difficult to cope with the emotions and stress caused by the event. These are frightening situations where there may have been threats to life such as accidents, natural disasters, sexual abuse, violence or war. But it can also be milder events such as redundancy or expected death.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the condition that can develop after experiencing trauma, but not everyone develops PTSD. The diagnosis includes flashbacks, increased vigilance and avoidance of things that remind you of the trauma.

In Sweden, about 6% of the population suffers from PTSD, with many going untreated for a long time. Trauma and PTSD can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background and help is available.

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How does untreated PTSD affect you?

If you have untreated PTSD for a long time, you can develop more problems such as depression, anxiety, fatigue, addiction, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and gastrointestinal diseases. Half of those with addiction problems have underlying PTSD. Trauma reactions can also lead to suicide.

It is also common for underlying PTSD to be missed in health care and it takes about 10-12 years from the time of trauma to get the right diagnosis. This can be difficult for professionals in primary care, and if a referral to psychiatry is made, waiting times can be long.

Many people also avoid seeking help because they are afraid of the emotions involved in talking about the memory, but talking about the emotions is better than having secondary problems and reduced quality of life. It is important to get help if you have been affected and at Lavendla we have psychologists with experience in treating PTSD.

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Symptoms of trauma and PTSD

If you are involved in a difficult event, you usually first suffer an acute stress reaction. This involves an initial shock reaction with strong feelings of unreality that last for up to three days. Then you usually enter a phase where you have symptoms similar to PTSD with feelings of unreality, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, difficulties with routines and various physical symptoms such as heart palpitations. This phase can last up to four weeks, and often the symptoms resolve themselves, but if they don’t, you may have developed post-traumatic stress and may need more help. The symptoms of PTSD are:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares or flashbacks.
  • avoidance of feelings, places and situations that remind you of the trauma
  • Impact on thoughts and feelings with numbness, difficulty remembering things, negative feelings such as guilt, shame and anger, as well as impact on self-image and negative thoughts about the outside world
  • Overexcitement where there is increased activity in the nervous system which can lead to insomnia, irritation and difficulty concentrating.

How you react to trauma is also individual and depends on your history and the support you have in life. How you solve problems, whether you have good self-confidence and trust, and whether you have experienced previous trauma. Women are also twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. It is important to get an individual assessment.

Untreated PTSD in children

Children can react differently to trauma than adults and it can be more difficult to detect because children do not have as developed language and cognitive abilities as adults. They may show similar symptoms of anxiety, fear, (unexplained) crying and anger, sleep problems with nightmares but also wetting the bed. They may become clingy, have difficulty being alone and act younger than they are. If the child is older, they may understand more of what is happening, but the problems may still show up at school, so it is also important to include them in the treatment plan.

The symptoms are also similar to ADHD, so a thorough assessment is important. A distinction is also made between type 1 and type 2 trauma, where type 1 is a single event such as an accident or natural disaster, while type 2 is more complex and occurs over a longer period of time, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse or assault. Being victimized by another person tends to make traumatization more severe. The earlier the child receives the right diagnosis and treatment, the better it is for the child’s development to have healthy relationships and to prevent mental illness in the long term.

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Treatment for PTSD

It is important to get a basic assessment of symptoms, which is done through interviews and filling out assessment forms. A qualified diagnostic interview can also be carried out. There are then several different evidence-based treatments for PTSD. Evidence-based means that the method has been researched and found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD so that you no longer have the diagnosis. It is therefore possible to recover from PTSD, even if you have gone untreated for many years.

Recommended treatment methods include Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), cognitive therapy for PTSD, Narrative exposure therapy and Prolonged exposure therapy (PE). Written exposure therapy (WET) is a newer method that has also been shown to be more effective than other methods. It is important to find a therapist or psychologist with the right knowledge, as this can significantly reduce suffering.

Treatment helps you to access your memories and process your thoughts and feelings to improve your quality of life and well-being. You often find that you are not as afraid of what happened and can see it as part of your history but something that does not affect you as much today. You take back your life. Sometimes you may also need antidepressant medication in combination with psychological treatment.

For children and adolescents, common forms of treatment supported by research and proven experience are trauma-focused CBT, EMDR, and psychodynamic parent-child therapy (CPP). Parents and other adults are also often involved in the treatment to create safety for the child. However, this does not include perpetrators in the child’s life.

We are ready to make the difficult easier

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma and has symptoms of PTSD, it may be a good idea to talk to a psychologist or therapist. You can easily book an initial session with one of our experienced staff to take the step towards treatment. We make the hard things easier.

12 common questions about PTSD and trauma

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is a mental illness that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event. This condition can lead to severe emotional and physical symptoms.

How does trauma occur?

Trauma usually occurs after a serious event that causes mental, emotional or physical harm. It can include anything from natural disasters and accidents to abuse, war or death. People can also be traumatized by witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event. How trauma occurs depends on a person’s age, mental and physical preparedness, and the duration of the threatening event.

What are the most common symptoms of PTSD?

The most common symptoms include reliving the traumatic event, avoidance behavior, increased vigilance, and negative changes in emotions and thoughts. These symptoms can be long-lasting and affect everyday life.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

Diagnosis of PTSD is carried out by licensed psychologists or psychiatrists and often involves both self-report tests and clinical interviews.

Is there a cure for PTSD?

It is possible to recover from PTSD with evidence-based treatments. This means that your symptoms are reduced and you no longer meet the criteria for the diagnosis.

What are flashbacks?

Flashbacks are intense and often unpleasant re-experiences of the traumatic event. They may involve seeing, hearing or smelling something that reminds you of the traumatic event. This can happen automatically, i.e. there may be physical reactions or feelings of discomfort. Flashbacks are not dangerous and can be treated.

How does PTSD affect relationships?

PTSD can make it difficult to maintain close relationships due to symptoms such as isolation, irritability and lack of trust. You may have negative thoughts about yourself and the world around you, but these are recoverable.

Why do many people have untreated PTSD?

Many people in the population have untreated PTSD, with around 6% of the population having the diagnosis. People often have to wait a long time for treatment and often develop other symptoms, which means that the underlying PTSD may be missed in the healthcare system. Many people avoid seeking help because they may think it will be difficult to process the event, but going untreated can make things worse over time and treatment is often not as difficult as you think.

What is the difference between acute stress reaction and PTSD?

Acute stress disorder occurs immediately after the traumatic event and lasts for a short period of time. If symptoms persist for more than a month, it can develop into PTSD.

What is untreated PTSD in children?

Unfortunately, children are also affected by trauma and PTSD and it is important to pay attention to their symptoms. The symptoms are not so different from adults, but children have more difficulty talking about the event and understanding it cognitively. It is important to seek help if you see a child showing symptoms of trauma and PTSD.

What is complex trauma?

Complex trauma occurs when a person may have been exposed to highly unpleasant situations over a long period of time, such as childhood sexual abuse, bullying, war, torture or domestic violence.

How to seek help?

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma and is suffering from symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek professional help. You can book an appointment with a psychologist or therapist via our website. We make the difficult easier by offering online and face-to-face session options.

How a psychologist treats trauma and PTSD

If you think you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, it can be scary and confusing. It is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Remember that only a qualified healthcare provider can make a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment plan. If the situation is urgent, contact 112 or emergency services immediately.

  • Step 1: Assessment visit
    The first step is to undergo an assessment visit with a psychologist or psychiatrist to determine if you have PTSD or other related conditions. You will fill out assessment forms and sometimes a diagnostic interview called CAPS is done to identify symptoms.
  • Step 3: Psychotherapy
    Various forms of psychotherapy have been shown to be effective in treating PTSD. Recommended methods are Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), cognitive therapy for PTSD, Narrative exposure therapy and Prolonged exposure therapy (PE). Written exposure therapy (WET) is a newer method that has also been shown to be more effective in a shorter period of time. Treatment can vary between 5-12 sessions. For complex problems, treatment is often longer.
  • Step 4: Pharmacological treatment
    In some cases, medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed to help you manage your symptoms.
  • Step 5: Follow-up and adjustment
    Regular follow-up with your healthcare provider is essential to adjust the treatment plan as you progress.

Next steps

Dealing with PTSD or trauma can be a challenging process, but it is entirely possible to feel better and regain control of your life. With us, you can easily get in touch with psychologists and therapists who can help you on your journey. Don’t hesitate to take the first step and seek help today. Together we can make the hard things easier.

Lavendla – Making the difficult easier

Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.