Identify PTSD Triggers

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Dan Sartor, PhD
When we look at the breakdown of what happens when somebody has posttraumatic stress, or a traumatic reaction that we sometimes refer to it as, there are a few things that are going on. As a result of having been exposed to some kind of trauma or stories about trauma, they begin to have an intrusive re-experiencing of that trauma, and it disrupts their ability to function.

When we're looking to identify the triggers in a counseling relationship, for me it's as simple as asking an individual to talk about when they've been most emotionally distressed. They'll oftentimes, in a conversation, begin to talk about how anxious they were feeling or how irritable they were, the difficulty of their concentrating, or their craving to use alcohol or crave something that's self-medicating, or their disrupted sleep. Whatever those symptoms or signs are, we can begin to first describe those, and then ask that question of well, what happened right before that? What started that feeling or that sensation or that emotion or that thought process in you? And then usually we're able to see that that's a trigger.

Managing posttraumatic triggers involves a few steps. The first one is becoming aware of them. The second is becoming aware of how they tend to have their post-traumatic response. Overall, it's a process, and what has to happen over time is this gradual overcoming, step-by-step, until eventually it subsides.