Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a specific set of symptoms that some people will develop after experiencing a traumatic event. These events can range from interpersonal abuse, to a natural disaster, to a car accident. However, that does not mean that everyone who experiences a traumatic event is automatically considered to have PTSD. Some individuals will experience a number of PTSD-like symptoms, but not meet the quota sufficient for a full diagnosis. This does not mean that the suffering those people experience is any less real. It also does not mean that they are any more or less likely to recover from their symptoms than a person diagnosed with PTSD.
A topic of debate has been how permanent is a diagnosis of PTSD? What is true is that the memory of the traumatic experience will never leave you, just like the memory of your high school graduation or a favorite childhood birthday will not leave you. What makes the memory of the traumatic event seem more powerful are the intense negative emotions attached to it. The answer to the question of permanency is that the symptoms experienced following a trauma do not have to be long-lasting, nor do the strong emotions attached to the traumatic memory.
Trying as hard as possible to forget the memory of what happened or deny the emotional responses will likely not work. PTSD is a diagnosis based on fear and anxiety, both of which can be treated very effectively with structured therapy. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) are two very specific evidence-based treatments that have been proven to significantly decrease symptoms related to PTSD. Both therapies involve a level of exposure to the traumatic memory reducing the power it has over your thoughts and emotions. CPT helps to address other thoughts that continue to keep you stuck in a place of suffering. PE works to expose you to situations, people, places, and things you have been avoiding that are actually safe enough. Both therapies are meant to help your brain and body learn that these people, places, things, and thoughts do not need to be avoided. People who have had traumatic experiences may start to notice that it takes significant amounts of energy to engage in daily avoidance. These treatments can help you return to a level of functioning and well-being that you experienced prior to your traumatic event(s).
While these treatments are not easy and can feel painful in the moment, the important thing to remember is they will work. You will experience improvement in your symptoms if you are willing to fully commit to and engage in the therapy. Working through traumatic memories can be difficult, but there is a certainty that you will come out healthier on the other side. What you deserve is a level of wellness and a life that is what you want it to be, not a life that your symptoms dictate.
Authored by: Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD