The lived experience of trauma has gained substantial attention in recent years. Trauma can cause debilitating mental health symptoms, even if you haven’t received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fortunately, this attention has led to the development of some effective and innovative strategies to help treat trauma.

Trauma treatment isn’t new, but the way these alternative trauma treatments approach treating trauma is. Many of these innovative methods can even help people for whom traditional trauma treatments have failed in the past, providing a new sense of hope for those living with lingering effects of trauma.

Recognizing the Prevalence of Trauma

Trauma is a widespread issue. Data from the World Health Organization’s worldwide mental health survey suggests that over 70% of people have experienced a traumatic event in their lifetime, though comparatively few people experience the effects of PTSD.

But importantly, people can face real impairment and challenges in their everyday lives even if they don’t meet the criteria for PTSD. Trauma can weigh on your mind, cause substantial mood alterations, and interfere with your ability to function in everyday life.

Common Causes of Trauma

Trauma can be caused by any number of events. It refers to the emotional response to a catastrophic or highly distressing event. Common causes include situations such as:

  • Living through war
  • Military combat
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Natural disasters
  • Being the victim of violent crime
  • Unexpected death of a loved one
  • Being stalked
  • Intimate partner violence

When people live through these situations, it’s only natural to feel shocked, numb, distressed, or fearful. But when the effects of trauma begin to linger for weeks, months, or years, it’s often a sign that these natural responses have developed into a mental health condition.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD is a serious mental health disorder that occurs after living through a traumatic experience. While most people who experience trauma don’t develop PTSD, those who do will experience severe challenges in their daily lives, including difficult mental and physical health symptoms.

Rates of PTSD in the general population are approximately 5% in the United States. Women are more likely to experience PTSD than men. Certain groups, such as veterans, have disproportionately high rates of PTSD when compared to the general population.

PTSD is a debilitating condition. The symptoms of PTSD generally fall into four main categories.

1. Intrusion Symptoms

Intrusion symptoms refer generally to thoughts, feelings, and memories that are outside of your direct control.

This category of symptoms includes experiences such as:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares or recurring dreams about the event
  • Prolonged distress in response to intrusive thoughts
  • Physiological reactions to intrusive thoughts
  • Invasive memories about the traumatic event

These symptoms nearly always relate to traumatic events and often cause a sudden state of distress. People who have PTSD may struggle to regulate their emotions and reactions in response to intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. Intrusion symptoms can cause significant impairment in a person’s ability to maintain their routine and responsibilities.

2. Avoidant Symptoms

Avoidant symptoms refer to when people with PTSD avoid certain events, situations, people, or objects that remind them of the traumatic event. People with PTSD are often extremely resistant to talking about their traumatic experiences, which can complicate the process of trauma treatment significantly.

Remembering or reliving the experience of trauma can cause significant distress. It’s only natural for people to want to avoid these thoughts or memories, but this can often result in people limiting their ability to live life as they see fit.

3. Mood and Cognitive Alterations

People who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder may show sudden and dramatic changes in their general mood, as well as new cognitive challenges that were not present beforehand.

For example, it is common for people with PTSD to experience what is known as dissociative amnesia — an inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event.

This is often paired with persistent negative beliefs about themselves, distorted thoughts about the causes or consequences of the event, and an almost constant negative emotional state. Many people with PTSD struggle to experience positive emotions at all.

All of these changes often result in a reduced interest in hobbies or activities that the person living with PTSD used to enjoy. It can also lead to a feeling of estrangement from others, interfering with their ability to build and maintain healthy social relationships.

4. Reactivity Symptoms

The final category of PTSD symptoms is known as reactivity symptoms. People with PTSD may feel as though they are constantly on guard from potentially dangerous situations, a phenomenon known as hypervigilance.

This is essentially the result of an overactive sympathetic nervous system — the system responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response. People with PTSD may startle easily and seem irritable or angry at times.

All of this results in problems with concentrating, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and often leads to reckless or self-destructive behavior.

How Traditional Trauma Treatment Works

Trauma treatment and therapy have traditionally fallen along one of two lines: talk therapy approaches and medication management. These treatments have both been studied for decades, and while they have helped countless people control their symptoms and go on to live happier and healthier lives, they don’t always work for everyone.

Trauma Therapy

Talk therapy is typically considered to be the first-line approach for treating trauma and PTSD. The most common and effective form of talk therapy for trauma is called prolonged exposure therapy. It can vastly reduce many of the symptoms associated with PTSD.

Prolonged exposure therapy is a specialized version of cognitive-behavioral therapy. The basic idea behind prolonged exposure therapy is that by teaching clients to gradually approach their trauma-related memories, they can slowly begin to become more comfortable sitting through these uncomfortable experiences.

Prolonged exposure therapy is nearly always difficult. While the goal is always to stay within the client’s current comfort level, your comfort level will be pushed to its limits each session. Ultimately, facing your trauma head-on will no longer be severely distressing.

Prolonged exposure therapy works. It is a highly efficacious treatment and has decades of scientific evidence supporting the fact that it can help people with PTSD. However, it often takes a great deal of time, and the very nature of the treatment makes it difficult for people with PTSD to engage with it readily.

Medication Management

Medication management takes a different approach: treating the symptoms of PTSD with targeted medications. This approach can often provide rapid, short-term benefits, but medication alone typically isn’t enough to resolve PTSD entirely.

Medication management takes place with a trained psychiatrist, who can help determine which medications can help with your symptoms, decide the required dosage, and monitor your progress over time. Medication management is often best paired with other PTSD treatment options, which can provide longer-lasting results.

How Alternative Trauma Treatment Approaches Recovery Differently

Alternative trauma treatments take unique approaches to helping people achieve recovery from a trauma disorder. In comparison to medication management, alternative trauma treatment can take a much more direct approach: treating the underlying cause of trauma rather than the symptoms alone.

And while trauma therapy does address trauma directly, the symptoms of trauma or PTSD can often interfere with the effectiveness of traditional treatment options.

Alternative trauma treatments tend not to be as impacted by PTSD symptoms because they take different approaches or use innovative medicines that temporarily alleviate these symptoms.

Ketamine-Assisted Therapy

Ketamine-assisted therapy (KAT) is a growing field of PTSD treatment that uses the medication ketamine to incubate the therapeutic process. Ketamine has been used in medical care for decades but has only recently shown promise in helping people overcome their mental health challenges.

Ketamine is a dissociative psychedelic. What this means is that it can lead to a feeling of detachment from your physical body, as well as a number of short-term changes in emotions, thoughts, and even consciousness.

In KAT for trauma, this can help free people from the barriers and constraints that prevent them from truly delving deep into the therapeutic process. A single ketamine session can lead to breakthroughs and progress that might take months in traditional therapy, helping people feel better quicker and find rapid symptom relief.

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS) is a direct method of treating trauma. In people living with a diagnosis such as PTSD, certain brain regions become underactive. Restoring brain activity in these regions is a key marker of recovery.

dTMS stimulates these brain regions directly, using targeted electrical impulses through a specialized electromagnetic cap. The process starts with a detailed, personalized brain map, which can identify target regions for treatment.

The dTMS procedure itself is completely non-invasive and only requires wearing the cap during the stimulation process.

When direct electrical impulses are delivered to these brain regions, they become more active — and stay more active in the months and weeks to come. This can reduce many symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and can help you make meaningful steps toward recovery.

Stellate Ganglion Blocks

The stellate ganglion is a bundle of nerves located in the lower neck. These nerves serve as a highway for the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for many automatic bodily functions and plays a key role in the fight-or-flight response.

For people with PTSD, the sympathetic nervous system is often overactive. This activity is partly responsible for the exaggerated startle response, hypervigilance, and the feeling of anxiety that many people living with PTSD experience.

A stellate ganglion block delivers a small dose of local anesthetic to the stellate ganglion, which effectively blocks a number of signals through the sympathetic nervous system. For people living with the symptoms of PTSD, this can drastically and immediately reduce physical symptoms associated with the disorder, providing substantial relief.

Stellate ganglion blocks are temporary; the effects of the local anesthetic wear off in just a few hours. But the mental health improvements from this procedure last much longer, often for months or years.

Essentially, a stellate ganglion block allows the sympathetic nervous system to reset to a pre-trauma state. While it may not be a cure for PTSD, it can rapidly accelerate your progress in other treatments and play an important role in your overall treatment plan.

Integrated Treatment at Plus by APN

By combining the best in traditional, evidence-based treatment methods with novel and innovative approaches to trauma treatment, Plus by APN offers a comprehensive and effective suite of services to help you or your loved one achieve recovery.

Integrated treatment means you can combine many of the treatment options listed above, further improving your likelihood of success. To learn more about how Plus by APN uses a combination of effective methods to help people overcome trauma and trauma-related disorders, call our team at 424.644.6486 or fill out our online contact form for more information.

References

  • Kessler, Ronald C et al. “Trauma and PTSD in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys.” European journal of psychotraumatology vol. 8,sup5 1353383. 27 Oct. 2017, doi:10.1080/20008198.2017.1353383
  • Liriano, Felix et al. “Ketamine as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder: a review.” Drugs in context vol. 8 212305. 8 Apr. 2019, doi:10.7573/dic.212305