This is How You Recover from PTSD
We often call PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) a process of Non-Recovery. Why? Well, it’s because nearly everyone who goes through a traumatic experience will experience a range of reactions that, to a small or large extent, aligns with what might later be considered PTSD. However, some people’s symptoms naturally resolve after a period of time. Trauma healing is a process, but the question becomes, what differentiates people who develop PTSD and those who do not?
What is PTSD?
Let’s first define the diagnosis before we get into trauma healing. PTSD reflects a cluster of symptoms that persist for at least a month. There are four main areas that we look at:
1. Persistent re-experiencing of the event
2. Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli
3. Negative changes in mood and thoughts
4. Hypervigilance and reactivity
About 7-8% of the US population will develop PTSD at some point in their life, and approximately 8 million adults have PTSD during any given year. Additionally, women are more likely to develop PTSD than men.
So Why is PTSD a Process of Non-Recovery?
I think this question is best answered in the form of a metaphor. On a much smaller scale, imagine having gotten in a recent car accident, perhaps a fender bender where someone rear-ended you. Naturally, after you got into this accident, I’d imagine you
start playing the tape of the accident in your head for a while. Maybe you start asking yourself questions like:
- Did I not look in the mirror enough?
- Why were they going so fast?
- Did I brake too hard?
This is the re-experiencing piece of the equation. I would also guess that by asking yourself all those questions I just listed and having to deal with insurance and everything that comes after, you might start beating yourself up or maybe even beating the other person up. Depending on the severity of the accident, you may even have developed some strong beliefs about other types of drivers and more general beliefs like “All LA drivers suck!” You may start losing your trust in other drivers. All of this right here is the negative changes in mood and thoughts.
Back on the Road
What happens the next time you get back on the road after the accident? Are you a bit more alert? Do you scan and check your mirrors more? Speaking for myself, I know I am definitely more hypervigilant of my surroundings. This right here is all part of the reactivity and hypervigilance.
Last question… What do you think would happen if you never got back in the car again? That fear would likely grow. The fear of driving, in general, and the fear of other drivers. This is avoidance, and trauma healing involves getting past it.
If you’re like the majority of drivers who get into these types of small fender benders, you probably get back on the road. And, after a few days, weeks, or months of driving, you likely start reverting back to your old habits. And all those thoughts and feelings you had immediately following that accident likely start to fade. The avoidance piece is what actually keeps people from recovering. Avoidance is the part that makes PTSD a process of non-recovery.
Luckily there are several evidence-based treatments for PTSD: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE). Each of these treatments target the avoidance aspect of trauma healing to help get you back in the car, so to speak. They do it in different ways, but they are both incredibly effective. In the end, what they both do is help re-engage you with your life. Metaphorically speaking, treatment may involve just first “getting in the car” without turning on the ignition. Then, as you get more comfortable, it might be turning on the car, but keeping it in park. Then it might be driving the car around the block.
For further explanation of the difference between these two treatments, visit the Trauma-Focused Treatment section of our website and call COPE for a free consultation to see which one is right for you.