I have been diagnosed with PTSD and MDD. I have been experiencing night terrors. Can you take about this as it relates to PTSD. I get the night terrors several times a night. Are there any strategies I might use to calm this down?
- Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
- Dr. Dombeck intends his responses to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; answers should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).
- Questions submitted to this column are not guaranteed to receive responses.
- No correspondence takes place.
- No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Dombeck to people submitting questions.
- Dr. Dombeck, Mental Help Net and CenterSite, LLC make no warranties, express or implied, about the information presented in this column. Dr. Dombeck and Mental Help Net disclaim any and all merchantability or warranty of fitness for a particular purpose or liability in connection with the use or misuse of this service.
- Always consult with your psychotherapist, physician, or psychiatrist first before changing any aspect of your treatment regimen. Do not stop your medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.
For those out there that don’t know, PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and MDD is Major Depressive Disorder. PTSD is classified as an anxiety disorder, and is a type of difficult that sometimes follows in the wake of a person experiencing a near-death experience or significant and violent loss. PTSD is characterized by three major classes of symptoms: 1) an exaggerated startle response, 2) avoidance of things that remind the person of the trauma, and 3) unwanted, intrusive thoughts (and sometimes dreams) about the trauma. The author of this short letter is writing to ask about the third class of symptoms. The nightmares experienced by people with PTSD are typically distinct from ‘normal’ nightmares (if such a thing exists), in that PTSD nightmares usually involve a reliving of the traumatic events that led to the PTSD, while ‘normal’ nightmares tend to be more fantastic.
While I have no silver bullet to recommend to you, I do have a couple of suggestions you might consider.
The first suggestion is that you do your best to get yourself state-of-the-art psychotherapy and psychiatric assistance for your difficulties if you have not done this already. There have been advances in psychotherapy techniques for treating traumas. Being traumatized involves experiencing an event that is so disturbing that it cannot be emotionally ‘digested’ and gotten past, and instead hangs around to haunt the traumatized person. While I have not received the training and thus do not have first hand experience, therapists I respect often recommend a type of therapy known as EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as a way to help ‘digest’ the traumatic memories. The older but better scientifically studied technique of Exposure Therapy (a type of behavior therapy available from a behavioral or cognitive-behavioral therapist) is also known to be useful. In the psychiatric realm, there are various and sundry medications that can help calm a person down as well as lift their mood. You would need to consult with a psychiatrist to gain access to such medications.
My second suggestion is that you consider seeking out and learning about various techniques for grounding yourself in the present moment such as relaxation training, meditation, hatha (postural) yoga and even just plain old physical exercise and dancing. PTSD involves the re-experiencing of trauma long after the actual traumatic event has ceased. It is therefore helpful to a person who is prone to such re-experiencing to have one or more methods available to him/her of returning safely to the present (safe) moment.