Laura Russell, Ph.D., Archive  

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Q. How long does therapy for PTSD Take? 

when does it go away? when does it end? can i ever stop crying and hurting? 

A. This is a question I hear often. While PTSD is a normal response to abnormal events, it is way more painful that you would expect it to be. I like to compare this to a broken arm. With a broken arm, you know what to expect. Pain included. Depending upon the severity of your break, the healing will progress naturally. 

This is also true of PTSD. 

How long it takes to recover depends upon a number of factors: 

  1. Do you have a current healthy support system? 

  2. Did you grow up in a healthy family? 

  3. Do you have self-care skills already? 

  4. Have you had previous traumas in your life? 

  5. How long a period of time did your trauma take? 

  6. How early in life did your trauma occur? 

  7. What complicating factors are there in your experience? 

  8. Does the trauma mean something to you above and beyond the experience? 

I could write a book on this one subject. So I am going to try and just give you a brief understanding of how these eight items influence your recovery. 

First of all, the literature states that everyone who experiences a trauma severe enough to cause you to think you or someone else are going to die will cause symptoms. Second, the recovery from PTSD is natural and normal. When they understand, most people can related their painful symptoms to the actual event(s) itself. 

If you currently have a support system around you, you will be telling them over and over what happened. They will be caring for you and comforting you. And you will recover faster. Three people have come for counseling with me who didnít need counseling because they had already done their work with their friends and family. 

If you grew up in a healthy family, you will have learned that it is okay to be yourself. You will have learned healthy family rules that allow you to talk about your feelings and experiences. Then you donít have to take the time to learn these skills in counseling. So your recovery will take less time. 

If you have nurturing self-care skills, you will know what to do to comfort yourself. Your symptoms will distress you, but you can care for yourself when they happen. Your therapy will take less time because you wonít need to learn these skills either. 
If this is not your first trauma, you have complications. People who have multiple unresolved traumas find them all jumbled up together. I used to do a lot of workplace robbery work. Many places have repeated robberies. It is not unheard of for a person to have been in as many as five armed robberies, for example. 

While it seems as though the final trauma is the one that affected you, it isnít. Your PTSD would then be the combination of all the traumas you have experienced. This would take more time, because you would need to digest and master all the traumas you have experienced. 

If your trauma took place over a long period of time, like with childhood abuse, then you have cumulative trauma. This makes your recovery more complicated. Going back to my broken arm analogy, this is the equivalent of a compound multiple fracture. 

With a compound multiple fracture, you end up having surgery first. Then you are in a cast for some specified time. After that you might even need physical therapy to maximize your use of your arm. This takes a lot longer than a simple broken arm. It is like this with cumulative trauma. 

If you were very young when your trauma occurred you lacked the language to digest it. This means that your work might take longer as well. 

Complicating factors are things like abusive relationships. Are you in one now and being re-traumatized? Then, your therapy would take even longer, because first you would need to get yourself safe. Sometimes, that takes a really long time for people to do. That is even before they can work on their trauma. 

What your trauma means to you can complicate your recovery. Workplace trauma is often like that. Sometimes, people feel betrayed by their employers. Or they have to return to a place where the trauma will likely happen again. So they have to deal with this extra issue as well. This can complicate trauma recovery. 

Sometimes, people have mistaken beliefs that govern their recovery. There are a lot of these in the trauma pop psychology movement. One particularly devastating FALSE belief is that you will always be injured. This is not true! Trauma recovery is absolutely possible. But if you have such a negative belief, you will find it harder to get better.


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