Over the course of a lifetime, all of us experience difficult or stressful events at one point or another. Sometimes, dealing with tough situations can become overwhelming, leading to debilitating symptoms like depression or substance abuse. Adjustment disorder is diagnosed when an event—or series of events— triggers a pattern of feelings and behavior that are harmful or disruptive for an extended period of time. For example, a house is destroyed suddenly in a disastrous flood. Six months after the event, the homeowner is still experiencing nightmares and has enough trouble sleeping that his job performance begins to suffer. Adjustment disorder can also happen to people who have experienced several disruptive events in a row, such as illness followed by divorce, or who live in a continuously stressful situation like a refugee camp. Common symptoms of the disorder include anxiety, depression, isolation, and even physical discomfort.
How can therapy help?
Adjustment disorder happens when an event (or series of events) overwhelms a person’s coping mechanisms and results in significant mood or behavioral problems. A therapist can help someone manage these symptoms by introducing or renewing healthy coping skills. Several types of therapy are particularly helpful for this disorder, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness training, or a combination of approaches. Using these tools, a therapist can guide an individual with adjustment disorder to learn to identify stressors, manage emotions, and even modify destructive behaviors. Learning and practicing these skills with the help of a professional can give someone suffering from this disorder the foundation needed to finally move forward from sad or traumatic events so that life can be enjoyable again.