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How to Recover From PTSD

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be a devastating illness, but it can also be very treatable. People with PTSD have high recovery rates when treated quickly and comprehensively. With the right treatment approach, the majority of people with PTSD can recover from the illness and lead productive lives again. So how is PTSD treated? In general, there are three main types of interventions that are effective in helping people manage their symptoms and get better: individual therapy, group therapy, and medication. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these interventions entails and when they’re most effective for people with PTSD.

Individual Therapy for PTSD

Individual therapy is a one-on-one meeting between a therapist and a patient. It’s a highly effective treatment for PTSD that can be customized to the individual person’s symptoms, beliefs, and needs. The main objectives of individual therapy for PTSD are to reduce symptoms of PTSD, improve quality of life, and increase the person’s ability to function independently. Common goals of individual therapy for PTSD include addressing trauma-related beliefs, managing intense emotions, improving communication skills, and regaining a sense of control and self-worth. In individual therapy, people with PTSD learn skills to help them cope with their symptoms and regain their sense of well-being. Types of therapy that are commonly used for PTSD include cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

Group Therapy for PTSD

Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy where a group of people with similar problems meet together with a therapist. The group setting can help people learn new skills, build trust, and connect with others who are going through similar things. Group therapy allows people with PTSD to connect with and support each other. People with PTSD often feel alienated from others and guilty for experiencing symptoms that may feel shameful. But in a group, the members can normalize their feelings and learn that their symptoms are not unusual. In addition to addressing specific PTSD symptoms, a group setting can help people with PTSD overcome feelings of isolation and develop better problem-solving skills. Types of group therapy that can be helpful for people with PTSD include trauma-focused and psycho-educational (PE) groups. 

Medication used for PTSD

Although PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy alone, medication may be helpful in certain situations. Medication may be particularly useful in cases during which extreme anxiety or depression is preventing the person from participating in psychotherapy or engaging in other aspects of their treatment plan. Medications may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, sleep aids, and mood stabilizers. Medications can take a few weeks to fully kick in and start having an effect, so it’s important for people to give them time to work. People with PTSD and their clinicians need to carefully weigh the potential benefits of the medication against the potential risks. No one medication works for everyone, and some medications can have dangerous or even fatal side effects. That said, some people with PTSD may benefit from starting treatment with medication alone and then switching to psychotherapy when the medication has reduced their symptoms enough that they’re ready to participate in the group setting.

Types of Therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help people with PTSD learn to challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs, manage their emotions and urges, and change their behaviors. CBT also teaches people skills to help them cope with symptoms like nightmares, hyperarousal, and flashbacks. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that involves having the person focus on a particular event in their lives while their therapist uses hand movements, sounds, or other stimuli to guide the person through the traumatic event. EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective at reducing the symptoms of PTSD. Exposure therapy is a type of CBT treatment where people with PTSD are exposed to their triggers in a controlled setting so that they can learn to cope with and manage their symptoms. Exposure therapy is a highly effective form of treatment for PTSD.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that incorporates movement and imagery to help heal trauma-related feelings and memories. EMDR often uses forms of dance and movement therapy to facilitate the process of becoming aware and processing repressed or dissociated memories. EMDR can be especially helpful in treating trauma that involves childhood sexual abuse and other types of interpersonal violence. EMDR can help people process and heal memories that they may have been holding onto for a long time without being fully conscious of them.

Support groups for trauma survivors

Trauma survivors may find that participating in a support group can be helpful in processing their experiences and emotions. Support groups may be available in person or online, and they may be focused on people who have experienced different types of trauma. While support groups don’t provide therapy per se, they can help people feel less alone, connect with others who are dealing with similar struggles, and access information that can be helpful in navigating their experiences.

What are the causes of PTSD?

PTSD is caused by a traumatic experience that triggers a fight-or-flight response in the brain. This experience can be anything from an assault to a car accident, natural disaster, or even a medical procedure. When this happens, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline flood the brain, which can change how the brain functions and how you respond to future stressors. If a traumatic event happens and you don’t get help coping with the emotions you experience from it, the event can get “stuck” in your brain and lead to PTSD. The two main factors that determine whether or not someone will develop PTSD are the severity of the trauma and how the person responds to it. The more severe the trauma is and the less a person is able to process and cope with the feelings they’re experiencing after the event, the more they’re at risk for developing PTSD.

What lifestyle changes can help with PTSD?

While there is no specific way of living that will cure all people with PTSD, there are certain healthy lifestyle changes that can help reduce the symptoms of PTSD and promote recovery. These include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, participating in a regular exercise regimen, reducing stress, connecting with others, and setting aside time for self-care.

The link between PTSD and substance abuse

Because of the chemical changes in the brain that occur with PTSD, people with PTSD are at a higher risk for substance abuse. There are two main ways that PTSD and substance abuse can go hand in hand:

  1. Comorbidity: PTSD and substance abuse disorders often co-occur. This means that people with PTSD are more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder as well.
  2. PTSD symptoms: Certain symptoms of PTSD can make people more likely to self-medicate, which can lead to substance abuse. These include anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Participating in a comprehensive PTSD treatment program that includes substance use disorder treatment can help reduce the risk for substance abuse and promote recovery for both disorders.

Symptoms of PTSD

When people who have PTSD re-experience traumatic memories in their minds or have recurring nightmares, it is referred to as “intrusive thoughts”. On the other hand, if PTSD sufferers feel strong anxiety and/or fear when they are reminded of the traumatic event that they experienced, that is referred to as “avoidance symptoms”. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. There are many factors that can influence whether an individual develops PTSD after a traumatic event, including genetics and personality type. Additionally, there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing PTSD, such as being a woman, having a history of mental health disorders, experiencing a traumatic event at a young age, and having a traumatic event that involved physical injury or the threat of death.

How to know if you have PTSD

If you are experiencing some of the signs and symptoms of PTSD, this does not mean that you definitely have the disorder. However, if several of these symptoms are happening to you, it may be a good idea to talk to a mental health professional. Along with the signs and symptoms listed above, it is important to remember that PTSD isn’t something that you can simply “snap out of”. It is a serious mental health condition, and it should be treated as such.

Long-Term Consequences of Untreated PTSD

There are many long-term consequences that can happen if PTSD is left untreated. PTSD is associated with a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder, depression, alcohol or substance abuse, and even heart disease or diabetes. The stigma that exists around mental health can prevent people from seeking treatment, which can result in these negative long-term consequences.

Strategies for coping with and preventing PTSD after a traumatic event

There are many things that you can do to lower your risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic event. Begin by having a support system of friends and family members who you can talk to when you notice that you are beginning to feel overwhelmed. Although it may be tempting to try to “power through” your feelings, studies have shown that emotional support from others can actually help to prevent PTSD after a traumatic event. On top of having a support system, it is important to try to stay as healthy as possible by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. In the event that you are involved in a traumatic event and begin to notice signs and symptoms of PTSD, it is important to know that it is completely normal to feel afraid, anxious, or stressed as a result. It is also important to know that there are treatments available for PTSD, including therapy, medications, and EMDR.

Seeing a Mental Health Provider for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be a challenging experience for anyone who suffers from it. Fortunately, PTSD can be treated, and people who find the right approach for their symptoms can recover and lead healthy, happy lives again. With the right treatment plan, most people with PTSD can recover. It’s important to remember that you are not alone, and there are many treatment options available to help you recover from the experience of PTSD and lead a happier, healthier life again.

As we’ve discussed, PTSD can be treated in a number of different ways. The best treatment approach for someone will depend on their specific symptoms and needs as well as their goals for recovery. Ultimately, as with most mental illnesses, what matters is that treatment is evidence-based and compassionate. At a quality outpatient rehab, mental health professionals can help people with PTSD symptoms and severe anxiety process traumatic memories and return to emotional and physical health. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight, but with enough time, overcoming PTSD is very possible. Most survivors end up emerging stronger than ever before.

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Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

RADT
David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen
IMG-1545

LMFT
Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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