Hope For The Journey

4 Reasons to Seek
a PTSD Specialist

4 Reasons to Seek a PTSD Specialist

Recently I was at a networking event and was asked what I specialize in, so I said my usual spiel, “I’m a trauma therapist and group practice owner.” The therapist I was talking with said, “Well, everyone does trauma, so that’s not really a specialty.” I get where she was coming from, AND I disagree pretty strongly. You see, a lot of therapists do treat trauma as part of their overall practice. But, that does not mean they all have the training and experience to do it well. Particularly if you get into issues like dissociation and more complex trauma.

Don’t get me wrong. These are good therapists—well-meaning and ethical. But, the reality is that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma require a different approach to treat effectively. Unfortunately, many people we see at Hope For The Journey have been to these good-hearted therapists who supposedly treated the trauma. But, they continue to struggle. Sadly, sometimes they even start to feel worse, have a terrible experience, and start to doubt that therapy can help. If you or someone you know fits into this category, here are some things to consider before you give up on therapy for good.

1. The trauma brain is different from the non-trauma brain.

When someone has experienced a life or self-threatening event, they have a one in three chance of developing PTSD. The more traumas you experience, the more likely you are to develop PTSD. It’s kind of like how a small chip in your windshield is more likely to make a huge crack if it keeps getting hit with stones. Once you have PTSD, your brain does not work the same until the PTSD is healed. The trauma is stored in the “here and now”, so something reminds you of what happened and instead of it being a memory that feels distant and settled, your body starts to react as if it’s going on again. This is automatic and often unconscious.

So, imagine you were physically abused as a kid. You may have faired pretty well, actually, and felt you moved on with your life.

 

Then, you’re in a car accident and almost die. Bam. Suddenly, every time you hear yelling (could be in a park or a neighbor yelling at the kids to come in for dinner), you suddenly feel like a small, helpless kid. You feel scared, heart-racing, maybe even in pain, or flashbacks of memories of the abuse or the car accident. And this happens over and over and over until you either shut down and feel numb, start numbing on purpose with unhealthy coping skills like drinking, sex, or acting out, or your body starts breaking down from all the stress (migraines, IBS, ulcers, and the like).

Now, you go into therapy, and a therapist asks you to talk about it. This triggers that same process of re-experiencing that you have been trying to avoid. So, maybe you quit therapy or maybe you think you need to progress. Therapy sometimes feels worse before it gets you better, right? While that’s true, if your brain is in trauma brain mode, you need a specialist that understands this and can teach you the skills you need to manage the trauma symptoms before you start the re-experiencing. This can be tricky and complicated because everyone’s expression of PTSD is unique. Therapists who do trauma well have gotten extensive training and ongoing supervision to develop the skills needed to maneuver through this psychological landmine.

2. PTSD Treatment is different.

Most therapy is client-driven meaning you come in with an issue that has come up that week and address it during the session. Maybe there is some homework to follow up on in the next session and hopefully, you are looking for themes and trying to make connections. But, you, as the client, are dictating what is worked on in each session. This process does not work with PTSD treatment.

Let’s face it. No one wants to revisit their worst memories.

 

No one wants to re-experience their scariest, most awful experiences ever. And yet, all trauma work incorporates this in one fashion or another. So most of us naturally avoid it. Even therapists find themselves avoiding or changing the subject because something feels too painful or overwhelming. But a good trauma therapist is skilled in making it safe to address the issue rather than avoid it. A good trauma therapist actively guides (but does not push) you closer and closer to the bad memories. And, only after you build the skills needed to handle the emotions and body sensations that arise from the memory. This calls for a step-by-step process of learning to stay grounded with hard memories. By doing so, you can eventually think about the memory from a different point of view. One that is more calm, more objective, and more helpful. We call this processing. Once processing is complete, the memory will be more distant, better understood, and less painful to recall.

3. Trauma work needs a definite beginning and end.

Because trauma work is hard, it should not last forever. Traditional psychotherapy (where you dig into new insights and work for years to uncover the unconscious reasons that cause you to do certain things) is great. But, not for trauma brain. Trauma work should be short-term and have a definite beginning and ending so that you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise, you just get lost in the tunnel and are likely to give up. Your trauma therapist’s experience is that light at the end of the tunnel. A trauma therapist always knows exactly how far you are from the end and can give you the reassurance that you are on the right path. Once trauma work is complete, you can work more loosely with any remaining issues you want to address.

 

4. If your trauma therapist doesn’t use it, they lose it.

 

Trauma work is tough and takes special attention to detail. If a therapist does not do trauma work on a regular basis—even if they have adequate training and experience—those skills get rusty. This can be pretty dangerous because people dealing with PTSD symptoms often also suffer from depression and other sometimes severe anxiety symptoms. Your therapist needs to be highly in tune with how connected you feel within the session. And, how high your emotions are at any moment. Many people freeze as part of the PTSD reaction. This can cause them to either numb out where they are completely out of touch with their experience even without their knowledge. It can also cause them to struggle with verbalizing how they feel. Missing the cues that tell a trauma therapist you are experiencing this might lead to flooding emotions either within the appointment or afterward. If you are already at your breaking point, this can lead to destructive behaviors.

In summary, if you have been struggling with an experience that will not seem to let you move on and have tried to seek out therapy in the past, but it did not do the trick, do not give up! You might just need a more specialized therapist. Look for someone who has multiple trauma-specific treatment options, a wealth of training experiences, and membership to trauma-related professional organizations. And, of course, if we can do anything to help, do not hesitate to ask!

Begin PTSD Treatment in Round Rock, TX and Austin, TX

 

Finding the right support is much easier said than done. Our team of caring therapists would be happy to support you in processing and overcoming past trauma. We are happy to offer support both in-person and across the state. To start your therapy journey with Hope For The Journey, please follow these simple steps:

2. Meet with a caring therapist
3. Start coping with past trauma in a healthier way
 

Other Services Offered With Hope For The Journey

 

PTSD treatment isn’t the only service offered at Hope For The Journey. We are happy to offer a variety of services in support of your mental health. These services offered include therapy for anxiety and depressiondomestic violencesexual assault, and EMDR. Our team also provides support for family members of all ages with counseling for teens and young adultschildren and tweenscouplesmen, and parents/partners. Contact us today to learn more about our team and community involvement!

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