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Trauma and PTSD

Trauma and PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. Their emotions and physical self is violated. Some examples might be war, accidents, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical injury, witnessing a death or natural disaster.

The "fight-or-flight" response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they're no longer in danger.

What Causes Trauma and PTSD?

Explanations of PTSD focus primarily on the way that the mind is affected by traumatic experiences. Theorists speculate upon facing overwhelming trauma, the mind is unable to process information and feelings in a normal way. It is as if the thoughts and feelings at the time of the traumatic event take on a life of their own, later intruding into consciousness and causing distress.

What are the types of Trauma or PTSD?

There are five main types of post-traumatic stress disorder: normal stress response, acute stress disorder, uncomplicated PTSD, comorbid PTSD and complex PTSD.

Complex PTSD (sometimes called "Disorder of Extreme Stress") is found among individuals who have been exposed to prolonged traumatic circumstances, especially during childhood, such as childhood sexual abuse. These individuals often are diagnosed with borderline or antisocial personality disorder or dissociative disorders. They exhibit behavioral difficulties (such as impulsivity, aggression, sexual acting out, eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, and self-destructive actions), extreme emotional difficulties (such as intense rage, depression, or panic) and mental difficulties (such as fragmented thoughts, dissociation, and amnesia).

The treatment of such patients often takes much longer, may progress at a much slower rate, and requires a sensitive and highly structured treatment program delivered by a team of trauma specialists such as are found at Mirasol.

What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

  1. Re-experiencing symptoms such as flashbacks
  2. Avoidance symptoms
  3. Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  4. Hyperarousal symptoms where the person is easily startled or "on edge." Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

Women seem to have a wide range of traumatic experiences. They are most likely to report rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, being threatened with a gun, sudden death of a loved one, childhood abandonment and neglect, and childhood physical abuse.

Why Do We Focus on Co-Occurring Conditions with PTSD?

Whenever we're treating a woman for one condition, we don't stop there. Frequently there are co-occurring disorders. Probably 90% of our clients admit with severe depression and an anxiety disorder. Women and girls will use substance abuse or an eating disorder as a way of coping with PTSD to help her control the intense feelings she's having.

Many times trauma is ignored by other health care professionals wrongly assuming that when the eating disorder or other psychiatric condition is in remission, the symptoms of PTSD will disappear. Ignoring the co-occurring condition can negatively impact recovery. When they are able to gain some semblance of recovery, they are at high risk for relapse.

Here is a list of other psychiatric conditions that frequently co-occur with eating disorders and substance abuse as well as other mental health conditions:

  • chronic anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorders)
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • panic disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • personality disorders
  • various phobias and compulsions

In this video interview, Executive Director Diane Ryan and Trauma Therapist Ann Twilley describe how and why Mirasol Eating Disorder Treatment Centers developed its specialization in treatment of eating disorders with co-occurring complex trauma and PTSD.

FREE Eating Disorder Support Group!

FREE weekly eating disorder support group for adults struggling with food issues, staffed by therapists from Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers. Thursdays from 5:30-6:45 pm at 3116 N Swan in Tucson. For more information, call 520-546-3200 or email Ann at support@mirasol.net.

"Mirasol is light years ahead of any other program in the country."