PTSD Awareness Means Knowing It’s a Treatable Condition

A silhouetted figure is shown halfway between barren desert and grassy meadowAs we close out PTSD Awareness Month, let’s take a moment to talk about some good news regarding posttraumatic stress.

By now, most people have heard of PTSD and have at least some familiarity with what it is. They may think of flashbacks and avoidance and often associate it with members of the military returning from deployments.

Those things are only part of the story, however. The piece that’s often missing is the recognition that, with appropriate treatment, many people with PTSD get better and are no longer controlled by their symptoms.

Let’s start with some basics about posttraumatic stress. In order to justify a diagnosis of PTSD, a person must have had an experience so traumatic they felt at imminent risk of death or serious injury to themselves or someone with them. Many events can be upsetting and anxiety-provoking without rising to the severity of what could cause PTSD. Common triggering events might include sexual assault, being a victim of crime, witnessing violence, a shocking injury, experiencing combat, or surviving a natural disaster, among others.

There are four main symptom clusters with PTSD. They include:

  1. Avoidance: This involves avoiding reminders, thoughts, feelings, memories, and triggers related to the event.
  2. Reexperiencing and intrusive symptoms: This can be nightmares, flashbacks, distressing dreams, intrusive thoughts about the trauma, and intrusive images of the trauma.
  3. Arousal and reactivity: Aggressive, reckless, self-destructive behavior, sleep problems, hypervigilance (being startled easily), irritability, and anger.
  4. Negative changes in thoughts and mood: This might be excessive guilt, persistent and distorted self-blame, pessimism, changes in self-perception, detachment from others, and difficulty feeling pleasurable emotions.

It can be hard for family members to understand why a person with PTSD can’t just “shake it off” or forget about what they went through. Unfortunately, this can add to the feelings of detachment that the person with PTSD is experiencing.

Let’s walk through what this might look like. We’ll use the example of a military family I worked with. The service member was a male, married for several years, no children. The person seeing me for therapy was his wife.

As the time for the husband’s return approached, both he and his wife grew excited about the reunion. But he came home changed. His experiences left him with PTSD.

It can be hard for family members to understand why a person with PTSD can’t just “shake it off” or forget about what they went through. Unfortunately, this can add to the feelings of detachment that the person with PTSD is experiencing.

A private and proud person, he didn’t want to talk about it. He was having nightmares, trouble sleeping, and started drinking more. He was so jumpy that alcohol was one thing that reliably took the edge off. He couldn’t stop thinking about his experiences in combat, but he didn’t talk about them. He didn’t want to burden his wife with his issues. If he heard a car backfire, the neighbors shooting guns for target practice, or fireworks, he became visibly shaken.

His wife was upset he didn’t seem to want or need closeness with her. He was detached, angry, distant, and irritable. He blamed himself for things he did, but he wouldn’t describe them to her.

Worst of all, he didn’t want to seek help. His wife was getting help for herself but couldn’t convince her husband to try counseling. He felt PTSD was untreatable and acted as if it was a life-long curse.

That is probably the biggest tragedy of the whole story. Because PTSD is treatable. There are several interventions that work well for people who struggle with symptoms. Here are some evidence-based approaches:

The bottom line: PTSD is not necessarily a lifelong condition. We need to do better in spreading the word that no matter the trauma or how severe the impact, there is hope. The best way to bring awareness to PTSD just might be to focus on the potential for healing it.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Martha Teater, MA, LMFT, therapist in Waynesville, North Carolina

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Joey

    June 30th, 2016 at 4:30 AM

    This is a very positive move, assuring people that this is something that can be treated. I think that like most mental health issues it is often assumed that PTSD can only be treated somewhat but that sufferers will always struggle. This may be true and some may have to work a little harder than others, but there will always be some light at the end of the tunnel and just knowing that little tidbit can give people something to hold onto and to improve as a result of.

  • paula

    June 30th, 2016 at 9:33 AM

    From my own personal experience I would like to add that we all need to be patient and kind to those who suffer. many times these are people who are too proud to ask for help and sometimes may not even know where to look even if they realize that they do need some help from another person. There are so many valuable resources out there and so many good people who need help getting through the severity of this. Do not write them off because you think that they will be too much to handle. Hold their hand, given them a hug and let them know that they always have a friend in you.

  • Godefridus

    June 30th, 2016 at 3:09 PM

    Amazing story ! There is no medication that can cure or give lasting relieve for PTSD. The working mechanism of SSRI’s is unknown according the sideletter of the medication and when you want to stop you need rehab.
    There is besides Exposure Therapy no effective treatment for PTSD and Exposure Therapy might not work for all PTSD sufferes. EMDR is not effective i.e. there are no scientifical reports that show the effectiveness.
    Why remain so many of the people with PTSD especially the veterans with war-related PTSD or Jews of concentrationcamps NOT cured ? Maybe this will open eyes.

  • Laura

    July 1st, 2016 at 4:05 PM

    Somatic Experiencing is also a fantastic treatment modality for my clients with PTSD and trauma.

  • Isaac

    July 2nd, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    Many of those who do find themselves in a situation like dealing with PTSD are very proud people, but people who have gone through some really quite terrible things.
    They may not realize or understand that they need help nor may they even know where to look for help once it has been determined that they need something.
    I think that is when we have to step up as friends and family and help them, even when they say that they are fine but obviously are not. Step up and say something before things go too far.

  • simone

    July 4th, 2016 at 9:12 AM

    I would imagine that it can be pretty lonely living with PTSD among others who just think that this is something that you will have to deal with and live with because there is no cure. Just getting the word out that this is something that could be managed and treated could be very meaningful to so many people.

  • jerry B

    July 7th, 2016 at 12:24 PM

    I found this very uplifting. I think that you are absolutely right, showing those with PTSD that there is hope and there is a way past these feelings can be a remarkable thing.

  • John

    September 8th, 2016 at 8:36 AM

    If there are better ways to deal with PTSD that don’t get find their way into an ‘evidence-base’ how so we find out about them? They cured ‘shellshock’ 100 years ago so why is there only ‘treatment’ for PTSD? Is the money in the maintenance, the medicine or both?

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