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The Cost of Avoiding the Pain of Trauma

This month I reflect on ending treatment with several clients who utilized my services to receive treatment for PTSD. All have shown remarkable progress as evidenced by a reduction in distressing symptoms and a newfound awareness that allows them to thrive in life, rather than just survive.

I have come across several clients who have been under the impression that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can’t be cured. And while it is true that unless you are wanting a lobotomy you cannot erase a traumatic memory; it is also true that with proper treatment you can break free from the intrusive symptoms which normally follow a trauma. Healing is not only possible, but it is also likely with the right type of treatment.

Experiencing trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 men (or 60%) and 5 of every 10 women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives. Following trauma, the body reacts through a variety of symptoms which are typically placed in four categories: re-experiencing the trauma, negative thoughts and feelings, avoidance of trauma reminders, and hyperarousal. These stress responses are normal reactions, not weaknesses. For the majority of people, these symptoms will start to reduce in frequency and intensity over time. For 20% of people, the natural healing process doesn’t occur and these symptoms which were once part of the normal reaction process turn into PTSD.

At this point, I am sure you are wondering what accounts for the difference between those who recover after trauma and those who develop PTSD. Multiple factors potentially contribute to the development of long-lasting symptoms including personal risk factors, number of traumas, age of first trauma, the intensity of the trauma, etc. One widely agreed-upon contributor is avoidance. Avoidance is a natural and normal human response to pain. If the stove is hot, don’t

touch it! The problem is emotional avoidance stunts our ability to develop flexible and adaptive responses to internal pain. Not sure if you engage in avoidance? Check out the list below for common avoidance methods that keep folks stuck.

Common forms of Avoidance in PTSD:

  • Aggression

  • Self-harm behaviors

  • Substance abuse

  • Bingeing

  • Cognitive avoidance

  • Behavioral avoidance

  • Dissociation

  • Emotional suppression

  • Social withdrawal

  • Behavioral inhibition

  • Somatic complaints

  • Avoidance of external reminders

Utilizing Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) I have been able to help clients learn new strategies to begin healing from their past. Avoidance is identified and more adaptive responses are established. Want to know the best part? This treatment doesn’t require years of ongoing treatment. Over 12-16 weeks, clients can address what is keeping them stuck, learn new skills, and explore important topics such as safety, trust, power and control, esteem, and intimacy. Progress is tracked throughout to ensure treatment is the right fit.

So while there is no delete button in our brains, freedom from extreme trauma symptoms is possible. Not only is this supported by research on the effectiveness of CPT but by my personal experience seeing the progress of those who had the willingness to do the work and the courage to try something different. Are you willing to try something different in service of a more comfortable life?

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