Accordingly, effective therapy for PTSD includes not only revisiting the trauma memory, but also exploring its possible meanings. The meaning doesn’t come “off the shelf,” of course, but can only be arrived at by each individual. According to Dr. Powers, “At best we can help guide them through that discovery process.”
It probably goes without saying that not everyone is the ideal person to share your trauma with. Some people may have a hard time hearing it based on their own trauma history. Others might respond with blame or criticism, or other non-validating responses. Choose carefully so that the person is likely to meet your story with understanding and compassion.
Timing is also important. It may take time before you’re at the point where you’re able to put the trauma into words. Be patient with yourself, recognizing that “not now” doesn’t have to mean “never.” Again, you get to decide when, where, and how you tell your story, which is a crucial part of owning the events of your life.
A Note About Complex PTSD
As noted above, the points raised here are based for the most part on work with discrete types of trauma — for example, a one-time car accident or violent assault.
Other considerations may be necessary for those experiencing more complex forms of PTSD, such as those with a history of severe childhood maltreatment. The National Center for PTSD provides additional information on complex PTSD.
The full conversation with Dr. Powers is available here: The Best Tested Ways to Treat Anxiety and Trauma.
- Abramowitz, J. S., Tolin, D. F., & Street, G. P. (2001). Paradoxical effects of thought suppression: A meta-analysis of controlled studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 683-703.
- Amir, N., Stafford, J., Freshman, M. S., & Foa, E. B. (1998). Relationship between trauma narratives and trauma pathology. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11, 385-392.
- Brewin, C. R., Gregory, J. D., Lipton, M., & Burgess, N. (2010). Intrusive images in psychological disorders: Characteristics, neural mechanisms, and treatment implications. Psychological Review, 117, 210-232.
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Written by Seth J. Gillihan
Originally appeared on PsychologyToday
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