Thursday, December 15, 2011

Helping Returning Troops With PTSD

Certified Practitioner, Rapid Resolution Therapy

As we recognized Veterans Day last month, many prepared for troops deployed in Iraq to return home, following President Obama's recent announcement that troops there will be withdrawn by the end of 2011. Despite varying opinions on the troop withdrawal, there is no question that life can be difficult for troops making the transition back to everyday life.

A RAND Corporation study has shown that nearly 20% of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression upon their return home. Even older veterans, like those who served in Vietnam, can experience a resurgence of PTSD when they retire and have more time to reflect on the past.

So what are symptoms of PTSD and how can we assist our veterans in overcoming it and enjoying life again?

PTSD can occur after someone has witnessed or been involved in an event that was life threatening or was an extremely disturbing event out of the realm of normal human experience. Symptoms include reexperiencing the event in the form of nightmares or flashbacks; feeling easily startled, anxious, or irritable and on edge most days; avoidance of anything that reminds you of the event; and/or feeling numb and detached from things.

Fortunately there are better treatments available for PTSD than there were 20 years ago, and the majority of these treatments can bring relief in as few as one to ten sessions. Treatments usually involve training you in effective ways to calm your emotions and bodily responses, reprocessing the traumatic memory (or memories) so they do not replay or haunt you, and creating new meaning in your life in spite of the trauma.

I use a method called Rapid Resolution Therapy that has been very effective in clearing PTSD. RRT differs from other methods in that the person does not have to relive the painful emotions associated with the event in order to clear it. In addition, this approach seems to shorten the time needed in therapy with many of my clients reporting complete relief from PTSD symptoms within 1-6 sessions.

Other treatments for PTSD include Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. SSRI antidepressants like Paxil, Zoloft, or Lexapro have also been shown to reduce symptoms, but work best if the person is also involved in trauma-focused therapy of some sort.

Many Vets don't seek treatment for PTSD because there is still a stigma attached to going to a "shrink" and frankly, they don't want to discuss what happened. I understand- the horror many Vets have witnessed and experienced is beyond human imagination. Some Vets are also haunted by the missions they had to carry out that harmed or killed others in order to protect democracy. They often do not feel a therapist could understand or be able to relate to these experiences, unless the therapist has also had experience in combat. However, what is most important is that you find a therapist who has the capacity to understand what the experience was like for YOU, knows how to assist you in reprocessing the memory, and collaborates with you to access your resilience and reconnect with life.

PTSD is treatable. Sometimes symptoms clear on their own, but the earlier you seek treatment, the better. If symptoms go on for a year or longer, the less likely they will subside without treatment. For more information on combat related PTSD, visit the National Center for PTSD. Click here for more information about Rapid Resolution Therapy.

Courtney Armstrong, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and nationally known speaker on trauma and grief. She is the author of Transforming Traumatic Grief: Six Steps to Move from Grief to Peace After Sudden or Violent Death of a Loved One.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen a few vets and cleared them with RRT. I'd love to get more involved with working with vets as they come back, hopefully in droves soon. How can we collaborate on this? Or how are you finding them? I know the VA puts up all sorts of roadblocks to contractors, and the treatment they're using for PTSD is archaic.