PTSD

One Woman’s Recovery from PTSD through TMS

August 12, 2019

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In Calabasas, CA, Julie Kabat is feeling remission, for the first time in 15 years, from her trauma—all thanks to transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, is a serious psychiatric disorder that affects 8 percent of Americans, or 24.4 million people. It is described as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape, or other violent personal assault.”

Although TMS is only approved by the FDA for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), many people who suffer with MDD also suffer with comorbid psychiatric disorders—or, more than one diagnosis—such as PTSD. 

Just keep reading in this article to find out:

  • What PTSD is
  • Julie’s story: A hope for remission

PTSD

In 20th century America, it became popular to associate PTSD with military veterans who may acquire PTSD from the overly stressful and violent events of war. After WWI, this was called “shell shock,” and after WWII, it was called “combat fatigue” or “battle fatigue.” 

Now—with the development of psychology and medicine—we recognize that combat soldiers are not the only ones who can acquire PTSD.  

Simply put, PTSD occurs in anyone who has suffered from a traumatic event—it is not determined by age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, or nationality.  


Contrary to popular belief, PTSD can affect anyone—not just combat veterans. PTSD does not discriminate, and a definition of trauma is distinct for every individual case. 

PTSD diagnosis criteria

The key component to a PTSD diagnosis is trauma—generally defined as an exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, sexual violation, etc., which may include: 

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic events
  • Witnessing, in person, the traumatic events
  • Learning that the traumatic events occurred to a close family member or close friend; cases of actual or threatened death must have been violent or accidental
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic events (e.g. first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse)

A Note on Trauma

When you think of trauma, you might think of a few scenarios, such as near-death experiences, combat, sexual assault, or physical abuse.

However, it is quite important to note that emotional abuse is just as traumatizing as any physical trauma. Like any other abuse or traumatic event, emotional abuse doesn’t always lead to PTSD, but it certainly can—so we should take it seriously.

PTSD from emotional abuse is often called “complex post-traumatic stress disorder” by professionals, though it is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-5. Such professionals distinguish the two by short-term trauma (PTSD—e.g. rape) and long-term, inescapable trauma (C-PTSD—e.g. parental or spousal emotional abuse).    

“Unlike physical or sexual abuse,” says Lisa Ferentz, social worker and educator specializing in trauma, “there is a subtlety to emotional abuse. It’s a lot more confusing to victims as it typically is couched in behaviors that can initially be perceived as ‘caring.’”

Signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Withholding affection: A way to punish and take control—“No kisses until you can be nice again.”
  • Threats: Physical threats or emotional threats such as blackmail to expose or embarrass you.
  • Ultimatums: An abuser’s way of placing blame on you—making you “have” to decide something.
  • Lack of respect for privacy: Looking through your texts, for example.
  • Property damage: Hurting you by making you lose a material object. 
  • “Magic tricks”: Making things “go away” by being overly nice or affectionate after acting in explosive and abusive ways.
  • Blame-shifting/Lack of accountability: Shifting the blame to you so that you are the one who feels guilty for their bad actions.
  • Alienation: An abuser’s possessiveness over you prevents you from seeing your friends, family, and loved ones.
  • Excessive Gift-Giving: Using material gifts as proof of love. 

PTSD symptoms

PTSD symptoms may be categorized into three groups: 1) reexperiencing the trauma, 2) emotional numbness and avoidance, and 3) increased arousal. 

Re-experiencing trauma (one or more of the following)

  • Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events
  • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events
  • Flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • Physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events
While isolation and avoidance are inherently linked to PTSD, they may also be linked to other mental illnesses. We still live in a time when many mental illnesses have terrible stigmas, which may lead the stigmatized individual to isolation.

Emotional numbness and avoidance (two or more of the following)

  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, drugs)
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” "The world is completely dangerous"). 
  • Persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • Persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions

Increased arousal (two or more of the following)

  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep

Treatment for PTSD

One possible treatment for PTSD is medication. Generally, doctors start patients with PTSD on prescriptions that affect the neurotransmitters serotonin or norepinephrine. These are known as serotonin or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs or SNRIs), which include fluoxetine (prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), venlafaxine (Effexor), and more. 

Another possible treatment—often employed in addition to medication—for PTSD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a specific form of talk-therapy, or psychotherapy, in which a patient works closely with their therapist during a limited number of sessions to become aware of inaccurate or damaging patterns of thought. The main goal of CBT is to change these thought patterns and better react to certain triggers in order to heal from trauma, for example.

However, these standard treatments do not always provide relief to patients, with treatment-resistance often skyrocketing in the face of comorbid diagnoses—i.e. more than one coinciding diagnosis. 

Not to mention, medications like SSRIs come with serious risk of unpleasant or unwanted side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Nervousness, agitation, or restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Sexual problems such as decreased libido, difficulty reaching orgasm, or erectile dysfunction
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision 

CBT does not have any overt risks or side effects, but it does not always prove to be effective in all patients.

Recently, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy has become a viable option for treating the depressive symptoms of PTSD. TMS is a non-invasive, non-drug treatment method  often used to alleviate the persistent symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. 

Keep reading to learn about the inspiring story of one woman’s remission from PTSD—with the help of TMS.

Julie’s Story: At Last, PTSD Remission

Since being sexually assaulted in 2004, California native Julie Kabat hasn’t had any luck finding relief from PTSD—but all of that changed for the better when she started receiving TMS treatment.

As a mother, Kabat knew that her life had so much more to offer—as her daughters grew, flourished, and fulfilled her life—but she found it so difficult to actually cherish these joys with the looming fog of PTSD over her head. 

“That’s pretty much the only thing that kept me going, was my daughters. I didn’t feel suicidal, but I felt that if I were to get in a plane crash or an accident that would be fine. It would relieve the pain,” Kabat told Spectrum News 1.   

Kabat’s treatment, like all other TMS patients, goes by quickly and painlessly. Patients often report that there is a slight buzzing or even a minor pain, but it is very minor and temporary. “It felt like somebody is ringing a doorbell in your head, you know,” Kabat says.

Julie Kabat, Calabasas, CA, found life-changing relief from 15 years of suffering with PTSD when she went through a series of TMS treatments. Photo courtesy of Spectrum News 1 / Julie Kabat.

A typical TMS session can range from 20-40 minutes, received 5 times a week, with the total treatment course ranging from 4 to 6 weeks. In Kabat’s case, sessions were 20 minutes each for a total of 36 sessions.

At her worst mental lows, Kabat was taking a staggering total of 4 antidepressants at a time. Thanks to TMS therapy, she is down to only 1, and is at last finding a much-deserved remission.

The Future of TMS

As in Kabat’s case, TMS can improve an individual’s quality of life significantly, even after years of failed treatment. 

At this stage, research on TMS’ positive effects on individuals with PTSD is not as well-demonstrated as for those with MDD or OCD, but such case studies like Kabat give hope for TMS as an alternate treatment route for PTSD.

If you are interested in TMS, or would like to find out what you can do for your mental health, contact us at My Transformations today.

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