Can you heal PTSD?
PTSD seems to be such a common condition these days. So is it possible to heal PTSD?
The short answer is “Yes, you can heal PTSD!”, but it is a process and there is no quick fix. It requires effort on your part, a multidisciplinary approach and a lot of patience.
By “heal PTSD” I do not imply that you will return to being the person you were before the trauma. That unlikely to happen. However, you can regain peace, purpose and enjoyment in your life, find a new direction. Using the trauma to learn, to grow and move forward. For some it becomes a gift in disguise.
I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason, even the worst nightmares.. if we can meet them with an attitude of love, acceptance and ask “What can I learn from this?” Bringing an intention to leave the anger and fear behind and to see the silver lining in our experiences helps us to move forward and to heal.
Who can have PTSD?
It is not just the military who will suffer from PTSD. Witnessing or experiencing any traumatic event that triggers intense pain, fear, horror or feelings of helplessness can result in PTSD. These events can be the death of a loved one, serious illness or injury, or abuse (sexual, physical or emotional). However the experience is unique to the individual and there are no rules as to what will cause PTSD.
It is important not to compare yourself to others or to belittle your own experience. Yes, some people survive the most horrific events and seem to be unaffected, whilst for others a seemingly small event will result in full blown PTSD. We all carry memories from our ancestors (genetic memories), from our previous lives, and of course from our own life experiences. These all influence how we react to the events we witness or experience.
Do you have PTSD?
The body can express the trauma in many ways and everyone is unique. The symptoms fall into 5 main categories. Sufferers may experience one, some or all of these types of symptoms and they may come and go.
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event through intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, or intense mental or physical reactions when reminded of the trauma.
- Avoidance and numbing such as avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma, being unable to remember aspects of the trauma, a loss of interest in activities and life in general, feeling emotionally numb and detached from others and feeling a sense of a limited future.
- Hyper-arousal, including sleep problems, irritability, hyper-vigilance (on constant “red alert”), feeling jumpy or easily startled, angry outbursts, and aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behaviour.
- Negative thought and mood changes like feeling alienated and alone, difficulty concentrating or remembering, depression and hopelessness, feeling mistrust and betrayal, and feeling guilt, shame, or self-blame.
- Pain. It is not unusual to have chronic, unexplainable headaches and body pain that comes and goes.
PTSD symptoms in children
Unfortunately, children can also experience PTSD following events in their lives. They will show different symptoms of their PTSD. These can include the following:
- Fear of being separated from their parent or care giver
- Regression such as needing a bottle again and loss of previously-acquired skills such as toilet training, bed wetting
- Sleep problems and night terrors
- Play in which themes or aspects of the trauma are repeated. Acting out the trauma through play, stories, or drawings
- New phobias and anxieties that seem unrelated to the trauma such as fear of monsters under the bed
- Aches and pains with no apparent cause
- Irritability and aggression, mood swings, disconnecting from the present. It is not unusual for them to receive a diagnosis of ADD, ADHD or Autism.
So How Do You Heal PTSD?
I have worked with many sufferers of PTSD and Trauma and have had great pleasure in seeing them move forward and enjoy life again. For most it seems that a multi-disciplinary approach works best when seeking to heal PTSD. It is necessary to address the mind, body and spirit. Many modern approaches address the mind by using medication and counselling / talk therapies. Of course this has immense value, but it is just the start for many sufferers.
For most clients we find that the following pieces are beneficial. There is no particular order and they may work on one aspect, move to another then return to the previous. Each person needs to listen to what they need at the time and allow the process to be fluid and flexible, it is their own unique journey.
- Develop ways to function and get back to everyday activities, find a sense of normality
- Nourish the physical body and reduce inflammation with good diet and nutrition
- Release the trauma from the Mind
- Release the trauma from the Body
Therapies to Heal PTSD
Here are just some of the modalities and therapies to be considered when you want to heal PTSD.
Mental Health Professionals and Medication
Counselling and Mental Health
There are many Psychiatrists and Psychologists along with Counsellors and Psychotherapists who specialise in PTSD and Trauma.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, MD, a psychiatrist at the Boston University School of Medicine and one the world’s leading experts on trauma, is convinced that talk therapy isn’t that effective, and psychiatric drugs don’t get to the root of traumatic issues. He is not the only one to believe that medication is best used as crutch, to get over the worst, and allow healing to begin.
He says: “The study of trauma shows that you cannot “knock sense” into people by talking to them. Trauma is not an issue of cognition. It’s an issue of disordered biological systems.”
Body Centered Psychotherapies, such as Somatic Experiencing, also recognize that trauma causes memory to be somaticised, or stored in the body.
Based on my experience, I agree with this. You may be interested in the book by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk; The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. The book talks about how the brain is shaped by traumatic experiences, how traumatic stress is experienced by the entire body, and how this knowledge needs to be integrated into conventional treatment.
Relax, meditate, calm the nervous system…
Deregulation of the brain areas associated with emotional regulation and memory is a key contributor to the symptoms associated with PTSD. This is in addition to the overactivity of the fear centre, the amygdala. Mindfulness reverses these patterns by increasing prefrontal and hippocampal activity, and toning down the amygdala.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a widely available eight-week program (with meetings once weekly) in which participants learn techniques promoting self-awareness, the integration of body and mind, and non-judgmental acceptance of their experience in the present. MBSR, based on Buddhist and other ancient meditative practices, was introduced as a program in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts. It has been found to be effective for a broad range of issues, including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, substance abuse, and adjustment to life stress, such as serious illness.
Gratitude practice. Take the time to count your blessings. Write or say out loud as many things as you can think of for which you are grateful. This could be a spouse, child, friend, the sunshine, the nice meal you had, music, flowers, a pet, a thoughtful act or words by another.. the list is endless. If you can only find one or two to start that is all good.
Meditation. Try a home meditation app or audio, join a group (there are many), book a one on one meditation session. Then have the intention to spend some time every day, starting with just a few minutes and work from there. And the days you find it really hard or it does not happen at all? Do not judge, be kind to yourself.
Massage, Acupuncture, Reiki, Energy healing, Somatic breathwork, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and many other modalities will calm your nervous system. Give them a try. Reiki, Energy Healing and other approaches such as Emotional Blueprint (I personally found a huge benefit from this) also help to release trauma from the body.
Diet and Nutrition
Nourish the physical body and reduce inflammation with good diet and nutrition.
Removing inflammatory foods such as wheat, sugars and processed foods helps calm our physical body. Ensuring plenty of fresh vegetables and some fruit also reduces inflammation and provides essential nutrients. A Registered Holistic Nutritionist can help you with making changes and a diet tailored to your needs.
Taking supplements such as magnesium and curcumin can help with inflammation and pain, and melatonin can help sleep. A Clinical Herbalist can also help you with herbs for nutrition, pain, cognitive function, sleep, and inflammation.
Exercise is so important. It stimulates circulation, clears the mind and nourishes us. Move in any way you can.. a walk, ride, swim, Tai Chi or Qi Gong exercises, yoga.. Going outside is great if possible for you, if not consider an online exercise program you can do at home. Try to join a group / class and have the added benefit of other people.
It is possible to heal PTSD. Accept it will take time. Start with small steps and do not judge when you appear to take a step backwards. Seek help from others, and put together a team of people / modalities that nurture you over time.