eNewsletter - June 2023
Dispelling misconceptions about PTSD and readiness for treatment
By: Jerome T. Kaul, Psy. D | Lead Clinical Therapist - PTSD Program
More than 12 million Americans over the age of 18 are believed to have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) each year, according to the National Center for PTSD.
The condition can be difficult to identify for a person suffering from it, and for medical and clinical professionals who are a part of their treatment team. People experiencing PTSD often dismiss their own trauma, experience intense shame, avoid talking about their trauma, and/or believe that they cannot handle the consequences of thinking about their trauma. As a result, many professionals who work with these individuals may not be aware of their trauma history.
PTSD can also be easily confused with other conditions that deal with emotional dysregulation, such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Common PTSD myths. Because of the shame and avoidance that often surrounds PTSD, it remains confusing to the public and many myths exist. Some of the most common are:
- Only military vets have PTSD. Injury, abuse, accidents, complicated grief, natural disasters, or assaults can cause PTSD as well.
- If you don’t experience immediate symptoms, you can’t have PTSD. While it’s common for symptoms to begin within three months, sometimes they don’t surface until much later.
- In time, PTSD will go away on its own. Most studies show if symptoms persist for more than a year, they will not subside without treatment that specifically treats PTSD.
- PTSD symptoms look the same for everyone. Symptoms vary from person to person. Some people don’t experience flashbacks or nightmares.
- There are no effective treatments for PTSD. Currently, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE) therapy have been listed as strongly recommended by the American Psychological Association for PTSD. Other treatment options, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), have been proven effective in some populations.
Misconceptions about PTSD treatment. Many professionals have misconceptions about what trauma-specific therapy is and when it is appropriate to refer an individual to trauma-specific treatment. Due to these misconceptions, professionals with the best intentions to help their patient inadvertently reinforce that individual’s own misconceptions and avoidance of treatment for PTSD.
Please keep the following common misconceptions in mind when considering an individual’s readiness for trauma treatment:
- Trauma-focused treatments are not suitable for complex/multiple traumas. Conversely, traumatic experiences often overlap with one another and working on one of them can help alleviate the painful impact of the others.
- Stabilization is always needed before memory work. If a person is appropriate for inpatient, residential or partial hospital-level of care, then determining whether stabilization is needed should happen on a case-by-case basis. If a person is appropriate for outpatient-level of care, research suggests that trauma-specific therapy is remarkably unlikely to “destabilize” a person.
- Talking about trauma memories is retraumatizing. While working through traumatic memories, the patient should remain in control of the process and be supported by the therapist, minimizing any retraumatizing impact. That does not mean the process won’t be painful. However, painful experiences are not the same thing as traumatic experiences.
- Some traumas shouldn’t be relived. Trauma-specific treatment teaches an individual how to think through their worst experiences in a way that helps them remember them as opposed to relive them. This process helps a person move on so that their worst moments don’t have to define their life experiences.
- Dissociation interferes with working on trauma memories. Even for patients prone to dissociation, trauma-focused memory work is helpful and effective, as long as a patient does not dissociate for prolonged periods of time and has some capacity to know where they are. If this isn’t the case, brief therapeutic interventions can take place to help that person learn how to do this.
- PTSD is about fear. Evidence shows only about half of the negative emotions related to traumatic events involve fear. Other emotions include guilt, shame, anger, humiliation, betrayal, disgust, helplessness, hopelessness and more.
Other considerations. In addition to the misconceptions above, individuals may have issues with commitment level, coping skills or thoughts of suicide. It’s important for an individual to be committed to treatment and personally want to work on their PTSD at this time. Coping skills to manage stress, anxiety, cravings, and other factors are also an important part of being ready for PTSD treatment. If an individual has tried to die by suicide within the last two months, that person may need to engage in immediate treatment that helps them more effectively manage emotional health stressors in their life before starting PTSD treatment.
Finding more support. Linden Oaks Behavioral Health is available to discuss treatment options for any level of behavioral healthcare. If you know someone who would benefit from talking about their treatment options related to PTSD or another concern, please encourage them to contact our 24/7 Help Line at 630-305-5027 or complete our Assessment Request Form and one of our staff will contact them to assist.