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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Humans have an innate “flight or fight” reaction to traumatic situations. For most people, recovering from a traumatic event comes naturally over time. But if your experience of the trauma haunts you and negatively impacts your life, you might have post-traumatic stress disorder.

You Can Overcome Past Trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also called PTSD, was first thought of as a mental illness caused by wartime experiences. Yet, PTSD impacts thousands of people who have never been in combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the body’s enduring physical and emotional response to extreme stress. That stress can be triggered by life-threatening or extremely difficult events—either a single incident, such as a car accident or sexual assault, or chronic trauma, such as battle, abuse, or chaotic relationships.
The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5—a reference commonly used by mental health professionals in the US—also recognizes the stress incurred by first responders or others repeatedly exposed to extraordinary stressors, as well as people exposed to the aversive details of traumatic events, particularly violent or accidental experiences of family members. These kinds of trauma can shatter a person’s world. Things that were once safe can become dangerous, and everyday life can become difficult to manage.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can include:
  • Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks, memories of trauma, or recurring nightmares
  • Avoidance behaviors like staying away from things that remind you of the trauma or avoiding thinking about it
  • Negative thoughts and moods, such as trouble remembering important parts of the traumatic event, having a distorted sense of blame, or losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Arousal and reactivity issues, some of which include sleep disturbances, feeling tense, and engaging in reckless or self-destructive behaviors

Our Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

At the Austen Riggs Center, we have successfully helped many patients with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. In fact, we are known as the place “where treatment-resistant patients become people taking charge of their lives.”
PTSD, like other mental illnesses, arises from a complex and highly personal interplay of traumatic stress, biology, and psychological factors. At Riggs, the whole person is the focus of the treatment, not simply discrete symptoms. We work with you as a person with your own unique life story and your own problems and strengths.
PTSD treatments vary from person to person, as does the length of treatment. Psychotherapy of PTSD generally includes some kind of “exposure and response prevention” related to the traumatic events. Our form of exposure and response prevention usually occurs in the individual psychotherapy. Once that relationship feels safe enough to risk looking at the trauma, we pay careful attention to experiences that emerge in the individual and in the treatment relationship while remembering or describing traumatic events.
Our treatment approach centers on intensive psychodynamic psychotherapy four times a week with a doctoral-level therapist, exploring your lived experiences to identify patterns and the potential impact of trauma, losses or other adverse experiences that may be outside your awareness but that influence your decision making. Through this deeper self-understanding, you can be freer to make better choices.
To augment these regular psychotherapy sessions, medication is usually part of the treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at Riggs. We have been trailblazers in developing what we call psychodynamic psychopharmacology, a way of using medications for their biochemical benefit, while also carefully attending to the impact of their meanings to the patient and to the doctor.
Family is often part of the social context in which symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may emerge. So an important part of every treatment at Riggs is family evaluation—with family treatment offered when indicated.
In addition to therapy and medications, our open setting with its Therapeutic Community Program mobilizes the powerful potential impact of social learning from interactions with peers—a profound opportunity to learn about things we do that we cannot see but that others can help us see and address.
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Admission Process

If you’re thinking about Riggs treatment for yourself or a family member suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues, please contact Admissions for more information. Clinicians: If you are considering referring a patient to Riggs, please contact Admissions to begin the process.

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