Myths about PTSD

These days, post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is getting more attention in the media and popular culture – with good reason, an estimated 1 million Australians are currently suffering from PTSD. Unfortunately, however, the increased popularity can involve a bit of misinformation.

Here are some of our thoughts about some common myths about PTSD:

  1. PTSD is a permanent, disabling condition.
    With an appropriately applied, evidence-based treatment for trauma, PTSD is a treatable condition. The treatments that enjoy an evidence base for trauma include: EMDR Therapy, trauma focused CBT, psychodynamic therapy and art therapy. Treatment from trauma is challenging, and may require some months or years of dedicated effort, but the evidence suggests that it is effective. There is even evidence that people who recover from trauma can end up experiencing post traumatic growth, and being more resilient than they were prior to their trauma.
  2. Getting PTSD means that you are weak or defective.
    Anybody, given enough adversity, can develop PTSD. Nobody is immune from this way of processing information, and everybody who develops PTSD can recover, and deserves compassion and assistance to recover.
  3. PTSD can be treated with medication alone.
    Although medication may assist to make symptoms of anxiety, depression, psychosis or mood instability more manageable, trauma symptoms respond best to trauma focused therapy, because PTSD is not a problem of brain chemistry, but of learning. The unhelpfully learned material needs to be reprocessed for a resolution to occur. There is no current evidence that medication alone can resolve trauma.
  4. All people with PTSD have nightmares, and flashback to their past experiences.
    Some people do experience these difficult symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, but many do not. For many, the most disabling symptoms are feelings of panic, anxiety and persistent low mood, that are not obviously connected to a past experience. They may have bad dreams about frightening things, but the dreams are not connected to specific memories. It is often through therapy that these symptoms are linked to past experiences, and consequently resolved.
  5. Treatment for PTSD involves reliving your traumatic experiences straight away in therapy.
    Trauma focused treatments proceed in 3 phases; in Phase 1, a client should be working on feeling and being safer in the present, and establishing greater emotional and social stability. It is not until adequate safety and stability is established that the treatment progresses to Phase 2, in which a client will engage with some traumatic material in a careful and controlled fashion. In Phase 3, a client and therapist will assess whether further learning or recovering is needed to reconnect them with a meaningful life, once the trauma is resolved.