In the United States alone, an estimated 70% of adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Of those, 20% will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that about 8 million people suffer from PTSD in any given year. With such a large number of people affected, it’s important to know what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is, how it’s treated, and if it ever goes away.
Here at Psychological Care & Healing Center we have a dedicated treatment program for those dealing with PTSD. In addition to providing psychological care and support, some of our most important work is helping people understand what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is and what it is not.
What PTSD Is Not: Debunking the Myths
Due to the popularity of the term “PTSD” in our popular culture, it’s easy to develop misconceptions about issues around post-traumatic stress. Some of the most common myths are:
- PTSD is not real; it is “all in your head”
- PTSD is a sign of mental weakness or fragility
- Everyone with PTSD is violent or will become violent
- PTSD will go away on its own eventually so medical help is not needed
- PTSD happens immediately after experiencing trauma
- People with PTSD are dangerous
- People with PTSD should be able to move on and “get over it”
- PTSD is not treatable
- PTSD is only caused by some form of physical injury
- PTSD only affects veterans
- Any life event can be considered “traumatic”
What PTSD Is
In reality, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental and psychological reaction that occurs after a person experiences a significant and traumatic event. Here is what you need to know about post-traumatic stress:
- PTSD is a real condition with real symptoms. It is not made up.
- PTSD is a human response to uncommon experiences, not a sign of weakness.
- PTSD does not make people “crazy.” It is not characterized by psychosis or violence.
- PTSD symptoms (i.e. nightmares, anger, flashbacks, insomnia, or mood changes) are reflections of the brain trying to cope with trauma.
- Symptoms of PTSD do not go away on their own but are responsive to treatment.
- Symptoms do not always show immediately; sometimes they appear years later.
- Only about 10% of women and 4% of men develop PTSD.
- PTSD is not caused solely by physical trauma or injury.
- PTSD can affect anyone that has experienced trauma, not just veterans.
Treatment for PTSD
Psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, sensorimotor therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing are among the most effective treatments for PTSD.
This in-depth form of talk therapy allows mental health professionals to understand someone’s mental and emotional processes and gauge the health of their relationship with the external world.
This process generally begins by focusing on emotions, thoughts, early life experiences, and beliefs. By recognizing and acknowledging recurring patterns in their lives, patients are able to develop new strategies for managing distress and changing behavior. Ultimately, the goal of psychodynamic therapy is to encourage patients to create healthier coping mechanisms to lessen their hyperarousal symptoms and increase both their self-esteem and their positive perception of the outside world.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Where psychodynamic therapy focuses on a patient’s psychological processes, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on how trauma affects the patient’s thought patterns and behavior. During CBT, mental health professionals teach individuals with PTSD how to assess and change the negative thoughts they’ve experienced since the traumatic event. For example, instead of being “stuck” believing negatively charged “automatic thoughts” that have developed as a result of the trauma, patients learn to acknowledge, modify and challenge these beliefs, thoughts and feelings by focusing on the present reality instead.
This process begins by exploring the patient’s current understanding of a traumatic event, including why it happened and how it affects them today. From there, patients and psychologists evaluate the usefulness of these thoughts, finding alternative ways to think about their trauma. Through CBT, patients learn that, although they can’t control every aspect of their lives, they can control how they interpret and deal with their circumstances.
A more holistic approach to healing trauma, sensorimotor therapy works to address how trauma affects individuals somatically, or in their bodies. Often used with patients who have experienced developmental trauma like sexual abuse or violence, this form of therapy focuses on the theory that unresolved trauma can get trapped in the body. Psychologists create a safe environment for patients to “remember” specific physical sensations as they relive traumatic events. In doing so, patients are better able to discuss trauma while remaining mindful of how their body responds to specific triggers.
Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing
In some cases, people with PTSD are unable to fully recall what happened to them. Using back-and-forth movement and sound, EMDR helps individuals remember what took place. Once a “target memory” is identified, the patient explores that memory while also paying attention to movement and sound, helping lessen their anxiety. Afterward, therapists will typically ask the patient to discuss their experience, helping understand if they still associate that memory with a stress response. This process helps patients face suppressed memories with clinical support.
Does PTSD Ever Go Away?
Like most mental health conditions, the intensity and duration of PTSD depend on several different factors, including the type and severity of trauma that a patient experiences, how long that trauma lasted, how the patient’s brain was affected by the trauma, and how receptive the patient is to treatment.
Although the Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 53% of people with PTSD who receive trauma-focused therapy and 42% who receive SSRI and SNRI medications will no longer have PTSD symptoms after 3 months of treatment, lingering effects can and do remain even after treatment.
“The symptoms of PTSD really never go away,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta told CNN. “Here is why: There is a profound psychological and physiological reaction to something traumatic. That traumatic event can’t be completely undone, though it can be diminished in the mind.”
So, does PTSD ever go away? No, but with effective evidence-based treatment, symptoms can be managed well and can remain dormant for years, even decades. But because the trauma that evokes the symptoms will never go away, there is a possibility for those symptoms to be “triggered” again in the future. With that said, living and thriving with PTSD is more than possible.
“After lots of falling down and getting back up again in the process of recovery, I now know that PTSD is not a life sentence,” Jenni Schaefer wrote for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Today, my nightmares are gone, I rarely startle, and incredibly, I have fallen in love with life. The world isn’t out to get me after all, and I feel safe. Finally, I am living in real time and not trapped in the past. While the fact that I experienced trauma will never go away, PTSD itself is fading.”
Experiencing trauma does not have to take over your life. The PCH PTSD treatment program will help. We want to know what happened to you, not what’s wrong with you. Reach out to a member of our staff at 1-888-525-2140 to begin that conversation.