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PTSD treatment: Why am I not past the trauma yet?

Common questions I hear from clients who engage in PTSD treatment include, “why am I not past this trauma yet?” and/or “why do I keep thinking about the trauma?”  These questions are completely understandable, and usually from individuals new to trauma therapy or who have not ever participated in treatment. So, what is the answer?

When a person experiences a trauma their beliefs may change about how they see themselves, others, and the world. The person continues to hold these new beliefs and therefore, they can let them invade into their life.  In a sense, they replay the same tape in their mind and do not sit back and examine these beliefs. For example, someone may have believed “I am safe in most situations” may now see themselves as always unsafe.  Some beliefs may be true, but many of these beliefs may be unrealistic and unbalanced, and can certainly impact your everyday wellbeing. This is where trauma therapy can help.  In properly conducted trauma therapy you will identify and examine the trauma beliefs- commonly called stuck points- where you continue to stay stuck in the beliefs. After these beliefs are identified, we then focus on modifying them to more balanced and accurate thoughts.

Another factor that affects people from moving forward are emotions. Trauma creates painful feelings so individuals may avoid feeling the naturally occurring feelings such as the sadness and anger related to the trauma. These feelings are called natural feelings, though they are avoided in people with past traumatic experiences because the feelings are too intense. This interferes in processing the trauma, which is essential to successfully treat PTSD and past trauma. While without treatment, and even in the initial stages of treatment, it is commonplace to be afraid these past feeling will be too intense to deal with, I liken these feelings to a coke bottle that you vigorously shake. They may fizzle and even overflow at first, but eventually the fizz comes down and things settle. A key to treatment is being able to experience the emotions about the trauma and allow them to take their natural course.  While this may seem unmanageable or impossible on your own, through therapy, we can deal with these feelings in an effective manner.

Another type of feelings, referred to as manufactured feelings, occur based on how you interpret the trauma you have experienced. For example, “I am responsible for the abuse” may lead to feelings of shame and anger. The more someone continues to think these thoughts, the more those emotions are fueled. By changing the thoughts that are not based on facts, we can change the manufactured unpleasant emotions.  The keys to treatment are processing natural emotions, identifying stuck point thoughts and modifying to more adaptive realistic thoughts, which then change manufactured emotions, Avoidance of emotions, thoughts, and situations related to trauma is a big factor fueling the maintenance of PTSD symptoms. A skilled psychologist trained in PTSD treatment can assist in moving past the trauma and improving overall psychological well being.

For more information or to set up an initial consultation related to PTSD treatment please feel free and call me at 404-954-2713.


Mental Illnesses Linked to the Cerebellum and Pons

Fifty percent of people with a mental illness actually have more than one mental illness. This statistic has led scientists to research this phenomenon and try to determine if there are common risk factors or physical traits that can be identified in this population, which could allow earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Duke University conducted a study on the “comorbidity of mental illnesses” (the simultaneous presence of two or more illnesses occurring in a patient), and the results are documented in the April 11, 2017 journal of Molecular Psychiatry.  Using personal interviews and brain scans of over a thousand Duke undergraduates, research showed those with mental illness comorbidity consistently show differences in their cerebellums, aka “little brain” and in the pons, which are the structures that are used to help one coordinate complex movements.  Researchers are hoping this information will begin to help them determine what ultimately causes mental health disorders.

What they discovered through analyzing MRI scans of subjects with comorbidity was a significant correlation between disease and grey matter volume in the cerebellum and white matter pathways throughout the brain.  The greater the number of mental illnesses, the lower the grey matter volume in the cerebellum.  This was surprising because traditionally the cerebellum has been viewed more related to motor function and coordination, not necessarily emotion and thinking.

Further, the correlation with white matter pathways in the brain showed less integrity with white matter pathways within the pons; meaning the wiring that connects the cerebellum to the reasoning and problem solving portion of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is also diminished in the group with more mental illnesses.  These pathways, which provide feedback to enable us to know how well our physical movements are helping us achieve our goals, so we can change our movements, as necessary, also, most likely provide feedback that helps us regulate our thoughts and emotions.

This suggests that those with less gray matter and less white matter pathways may have poorer communication within the brain.  Therefore, actions, physical and verbal, are not receiving feedback in the same way as those with better internal brain communication, resulting in mental health problems.

Further research in different and more academically diverse populations is underway, noting the Duke students in the initial research are, on the whole, healthier and more intelligent than a random population.  If the findings are the same, that will be significant and will initiate more studies to better identify and understand the neural bases of psychological problems.


Studying the Link Between Social Phobia and DNA- New Developments

Have you ever been out at a party, maybe the grocery store, or somewhere in a public place with a lot of people, when all of sudden you felt your heart thump wildly, your breath shorten, and felt fearful?  In an article published by Science Daily, the connection between these feelings and genetic traits is explored, with promise for advancement in future treatments.  These type of feelings,  known as social anxiety (also known as social phobia), affect approximately one in ten people, though to different degrees and at different times in their lives.  Part of social anxiety is avoiding others and common societal tasks, such as venturing out into the world to go to the store for groceries or even just going to the gym, essentially going anywhere where one could be exposed to negative judgement.  Consequently, people with social phobia tend to be reclusive and use the internet for most of their social experiences, rather than venture out into the world, where they will be exposed to situations that can be terror-evoking for them.Social Phobia DNA Link

Is this trait inherited or learned? Recent research has shown that social phobia could be a result of genetics.  Genetic illnesses most commonly result from SNP’s, or “single nucleotide polymorphisms.”  DNA is laid out in an array of genome sequences, with each sequence being constructed by four different nucleotides.  An SNP is a single nucleotide in a genome sequence that differs from person to person.  SNP’s are what cause most mental disorders and The University of Bonn’s research team study indicates that SNP’s are linked to social phobia.

New Studies on Social Phobia

The University of Bonn’s research team looked at 321 people with a social phobia who were compared with 804 people who didn’t claim to have the phobia.  The researchers looked into 24 SNP’s that were believed to cause the social phobias.  From each patient, his or her symptoms and the seriousness of his or her phobia was recorded.  Their DNA was taken from a blood sample.

After the subjects were tested and the data had been collected, it was determined that “an SNP in the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 is involved in the development of social phobia”[1]  SLC6A4 is part of the transportation of serotonin.  Medicines that increase the amount of serotonin in the brain are used to treat depression and anxiety, so it makes sense that if the transportation of serotonin is damaged or obscured the person effected would have increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

The University of Bonn wants to continue their research and are currently gathering test subjects and resources.  They want to identify if there are further links between DNA and social phobia.  Even though the University’s research team has made several strides in determining the genetic cause of social phobia, they are really just beginning to touch the subject and will need much more time before the exact links and causes of social phobia are found.

Hopefully, this and related research into the links between social phobia and DNA will continue to advance and provide new answers and treatment paths for those who have to live with the effects of social anxiety on a daily basis.