What is PTSD? And how can dogs help?
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stress-related disorder that affects about 1 in 12 adults at some point in their lives. PTSD can develop from exposure to a variety of psychologically traumatic events such as experiencing sexual abuse or assault, a life threatening event or natural disaster, or unexpected death or harm to a loved one.
All of us will experience some form of trauma during our lives, and most of us will recover without long-term difficulty. Some people who are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, or experience a particularly traumatic incident, may go on to develop PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Our bodies instinctively respond to threat to help us survive-to get away, fight the threat, or slow down to let the threat pass. This is known as the Flight/Flight/Freeze response. Intense or repeated trauma can lead to this response becoming extremely sensitive.
When this happens almost any environment becomes threatening, and anything relating to the traumatic incident provokes an activation of the Flight/Flight/Freeze response. This contributes to many of the symptoms we associate with PTSD: Re-experiencing trauma when reminded of it; avoiding reminders of trauma; low mood or depression; severe anxiety; reactivity, irritability, and agitation; disturbed sleep and nightmares; dissociation, (to name but a few).
Military personnel who are exposed to combat violence are strongly at risk for developing PTSD. Significant psychological, social, and functional difficulties may come out of this. PTSD is particularly prevalent in former military personal who often endure exposure to traumatic incidents in the course of their duties. Up to 25% of British Military personnel who have transitioned out of active duty would meet criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD.
PTSD is a particularly difficult disorder to treat in military personnel. While empirically supported treatments work for many people, some can have dropout and nonresponse rates of up to 50% . Additionally, few treatments incorporate the family members and/or spouses, who often suffer from their own psychological distress, secondary trauma, and caregiver burden.
Specially trained dogs are one adjunct to treatment option for PTSD that may also address the needs of the family unit and encourage treatment retention.
Assistance dogs for PTSD are specifically trained to instill a sense of confidence, safety, and independence on a day-to-day basis for the veteran.