Appropriate treatment for PTSD can be elusive. Advice from a man who has been through it.
My experience with the NHS mental health service was an absolute nightmare. It’s quite difficult for me to reflect on how bad things got as a result. How the mental health stigma and lack of PTSD awareness played such a significant role in the years of misery and misdiagnosis. If it wasn’t for an ex-girlfriend, my mum, some incredibly patient mates and bit of luck, there would be nothing to write.
I’ll always be grateful because I know how easily things could have spiraled out of control, past the point of no return.
Before I start, please remember I’m no expert, I’m referencing my own personal experience and drawing conclusions from from what I have seen and been told.
PTSD symptoms are heavily influenced by the fear and avoidance of dealing with the trigger points of the trauma. I believe unless early diagnosis is achieved many sufferers unnecessarily go through a merry-go-round of different types of therapies and therapists before finding appropriate treatment for PTSD.
Often symptoms of the PTSD will be acknowledged before the depths of the trauma.
Commonly, avoidance behaviours which shield the survivor from the worst destructive thought patterns are seen first– behaviors such as alcoholism, substance use, excessive exercise or working too hard etc. However, they are not the root of the problem, just symptoms which people can easily recognize and relate to unlike serious trauma.
Removing survivors’ coping mechanisms without offering a viable alternative can actually make things dramatically worse. It’s essential patients are treated for the trauma immediately. Any additional treatment such as substance abuse should be coordinated with the lead trauma specialist.
Be wary of doctors or counsellors who encourage you to attend AA or NA meetings to battle your addictive demons before starting or without giving you the specialist treatment for PTSD. I’ll leave my thoughts on the NA & AA support groups for another post. However, such support groups have a complete cross-section of society, all at different stages of their lives facing a countless array of individual battles just tenuously linked through alcohol, drugs, (fill in the blank)… If you have experienced or witnessed serious emotional or physical trauma, deal with the trauma before the symptoms of it.
Trauma is unique, most people don’t go through life having to face a serious life or death trauma. And, as a result aren’t aware how your brain reacts in such a state. How the images can get burnt into the back of your retinas and how that can affect you long-term. They might try to empathise but can’t understand how & why you react in the way you do. How can they understand when you don’t?
We all struggle with our demons but not all of us face serious trauma. An overemphasis on alcohol or substance abuse should not be the primary route for treatment. Keep in mind, this is my opinion and not medical nor scientific. But what I have seen from going through this is that unless the patient’s addictive/avoidance issues inhibits his or her ability to fairly reflect on their past or prevents the process of learning new modes of thought, substance abuse should not be a priority. A significant proportion of the “functioning” population suffer from alcohol and substance abuse. The majority of those have never experienced life or death trauma. I’m not belittling the destructive nature of alcohol and substance abuse. I’m just highlighting how it’s an everyday problem for non-trauma survivors.
I also think treatment for PTSD should be given on an individual level not in group form.
As long as patients can engage in the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, be honest with themselves and commit to the period of learning, I genuinely believe by completing the trauma treatment, the everyday problems won’t be the problems they were before.
Warning!! Don’t settle for general therapy or alcohol or substance abuse therapy.
You should never feel patronized. In my personal experience, general therapy and medication made my symptoms considerably worse. For me the medication just reminded me of the trauma and my inability to cope. Re-triggering the worst of the trauma daily, in tablet form.
It’s crucial you’re able to feel comfortable enough to open up with the therapist. Obviously, this will depend your compatibility with their personality. Everyone is human and sometimes despite our best interests we don’t all connect the way we’d like.
Fundamentally, you need to be able to trust them. You need to be reassured that they are experienced in dealing with trauma survivors and treatment for PTSD.
Remember, it’s a period of learning and self development.The more honest you are and the higher level of engagement in the treatment process, the greater the long-term benefit to you.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling or someone you know is, it can get better, I promise. It won’t change what happened, just how you process it. It will be the hardest thing you have faced since the actual trauma, it certainly won’t be pain-free but stick with it because…
“when you’re in hell, keep going” — Winston Churchill
Be patient, don’t rush into treatment with just anyone. Serious trauma sticks and affects many aspects of your life with devastating collateral damage. Invest time in finding someone genuinely qualified, who has experience with treating PTSD and most importantly someone you can connect with and trust.