Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.
Getting effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve function.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may start within one month of a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the event. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks.
PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
- Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
- Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
- Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
- Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
Negative changes in thinking and mood
Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:
- Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
What Is Traumatic Grief Therapy?
Traumatic grief therapy is a type of treatment used to help people who have experienced the sudden death of a loved one. When a loved one passes away suddenly, the people left behind often experience traumatic grief. In order to deal with this intense kind of grief, therapy can be a helpful and healthy way to process painful emotions.
Types of Grief
Traumatic grief specifically takes place after a loved one passes away in a traumatic manner, and, as Levin says, “usually, but not always, in a sudden, unexpected manner.”
Examples of death that might lead to traumatic grief include:
- Medical crises
“Traumatic grief can also occur when an individual, who is a survivor, is involved in the incident that took a loved one’s life, witnessed what happened, or found a deceased loved one,” Levin says. Additionally, if someone needs to make difficult medical decisions regarding a loved one’s care, such as resuscitation or terminating life support, a trauma response can follow.
Traumatic grief therapy is often tailored to address an individual’s specific needs and symptoms. It may draw on various techniques, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
- Brief eclectic therapy (BET)
Although everyone’s traumatic grief therapy journey differs, Levin outlines some general techniques and steps you can expect throughout therapy.