Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is described as a mental health issue developing in response to a traumatic event. Its symptoms go beyond how most people respond to and cope with traumatic events, leaving lasting mental scars with obtrusive and/or destructive consequences. Typically, PTSD in teens does not just go away on its own. Without treatment for PTSD in teens, symptoms can last for months or years, or they may come and go in waves. Getting support and treatment treatment for PTSD in teens can make all the difference.

The concept of trauma itself comes from the idea of leaving a “wound” in the psyche – yet while most people grieve and cope with trauma within a range of different ways, those with PTSD may struggle more. While it is usually associated with war and combat, PTSD also commonly occurs in rape victims, accident survivors, suicide attempt survivors, domestic violence, and more. It is estimated roughly 3.5 percent of people have or will develop PTSD. PTSD is a very real disorder, and markedly different from other responses to horrific or shocking events.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD in Teens

Post-traumatic stress disorder is primarily characterized by disruptive, obsessive, and intrusive thoughts and feelings. Those who have undergone extreme stress due to a traumatic experience may be “hung up” on their experience, unable to fully live through it or cope with its details. These symptoms result from a neurological adaptation to trauma, wherein certain portions of the brain’s mechanism for regulating fight-or-flight are altered and disturbed, causing disruptive thoughts and emotions.

This state of hyperarousal can be triggered whenever these memories or related thoughts and memories are brought up. Another potential characteristic for PTSD is dissociation, wherein a person intuitively splits away from the experience and perceives it as though through the eyes of a stranger, as a form of trauma avoidance. They may feel as though the event happened in a fog, or as though they were just a spectator.

As we continue to learn more about PTSD, we develop different ways to recognize it, discover similar or co-occurring disorders, and learn how to help people with the disorder better navigate their lives and avoid intrusive or destructive thinking. This also makes proper diagnosis so important, as PTSD is related to other disorders including depression, dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder (DID), and even trauma-related obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The signs and symptoms of PTSD in a teen include:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts.
  • Avoidance symptoms, such as staying away from places and people, and avoiding the memory itself.
  • Hyperarousal and reactivity, including feeling constantly on guard, being easily startled, and struggling with insomnia.
  • Mood symptoms, including loss of interest in usual activities, powerful feelings of guilt, and lasting negativity.

Traumatic experiences are unfortunately common, but only a small percentage of people experience post-traumatic stress disorder. A major differentiation between a regular response to trauma and PTSD is length and severity. Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere significantly with school/work and relationships.

Bridging the Gap to Recovery Through Treatment for PTSD in Teens

Treatment for PTSD in teens will depend on the nature of the symptoms and their severity. To ensure all potential co-occurring symptoms are being accounted for, we at Visions Treatment Centers, insist on a thorough assessment process to help identify and recommend an effective path of treatment for PTSD in teens. We coordinate with a licensed psychiatrist and specialists to ensure our teens get the help they deserve, and nothing is being overlooked. Our programs of treatment for PTSD in teens include:

Talk Therapy

Different forms of talk therapy may help a teen work through their trauma in a safe and comfortable environment, or specifically address recurring intrusive thoughts and behavior, and ways to replace them or cope with them effectively. Treatment options such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy fall under talk therapy.

Medication

In cases where mood symptoms are severe enough, or where co-occurring symptoms call for it, prescribed medications such as antidepressants can help improve the effectiveness of other treatments.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Another form of talk therapy specifically addressing traumatic experiences, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) relies on hand tapping or eye movement activities to help soften traumatic reexperiencing during therapy, sometimes allowing teens to go into greater detail and work through their trauma more effectively.

Somatic Experiencing

Somatic experiencing is a therapeutic technique built on the idea that some people unconsciously override their body’s reaction to trauma, causing it to linger, prolonging feelings of hypervigilance, aggression, and anxiety. A therapist will help a teen work through traumatic memories step-by-step, looking out for somatic sensations to avoid retraumatizing a teen while helping them develop and utilize self-regulating abilities. These may include identifying and employing sources of strength and comfort while confronting something traumatic.

Brainspotting

Visions’ therapists are also trained in brainspotting, a technique derived from EMDR treatment. Brainspotting utilizes the way trauma develops to identify the link between a traumatic experience and a region of the limbic system, a portion of the brain dedicated to long-term memory and motivation, among other things. This is done by identifying gazes and eye positions that trigger emotions or a painful recollection and then working through them together.

The effects of post-traumatic stress disorder may last anywhere from a few months to decades. Depending on your teen’s case, long-term support and treatment may be necessary, including support groups and more. At Visions Treatment Centers, we work with families to prepare them for continuous care.

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