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Explaining PTSD Recovery Stages

ptsd recovery stages

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that occurs after someone has experienced a traumatic event such as a near-death experience, car accident, or a period of abuse. For many, its symptoms can feel debilitating and create roadblocks to setting and achieving positive goals for one’s future.

There is hope, however. PTSD recovery is possible, and it often follows a similar pattern for those who seek treatment. In this post, we’ll be outlining the recovery stages of PTSD to help you picture what your own journey could look like with the help of a professional therapist.

Why Does PTSD Happen?

PTSD can happen to anyone who has survived or witnessed a traumatic event. You do not need to be directly involved in the incident that impacts your mental health in the future.

Why does PTSD occur, though? How does it become so embedded in one’s mind that it feels almost inescapable without treatment?

Research states that traumatic memory dominates the mind of the person who experiences PTSD. This can influence thought and behavior patterns as well as contribute to other mental health conditions and substance abuse issues later in life, such as anxiety, depression, suicidality, and addiction to alcohol or drugs.

Treating PTSD often involves empowering and assisting the individual to healthily process these memories so that they no longer remain dominant in their thinking. This helps create a clearer mental path for developing healthy coping skills, creating new behavior and thought patterns, and setting positive goals for the future.

Veterans and PTSD

Veterans, in particular, are a group that has been significantly affected by PTSD. After facing the intense rigors and horrors of war, many soldiers return home only to battle invisible wounds. The traumatic experiences they have faced in combat zones often manifest in nightmares, flashbacks, and a heightened state of alertness that doesn’t fit their new civilian environment. For these veterans with PTSD, the sounds of fireworks or a car backfiring can trigger distressing memories. This specific subset of PTSD, often termed “combat PTSD,” requires specialized understanding and care, as the triggers and experiences can differ from trauma faced by civilians. For veterans, community support, recognition of their experiences, and access to veteran-specific therapy programs are vital for their recovery journey.

How to Heal from PTSD – Treating PTSD

Yes, recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is indeed possible. The process of recovery can look different for each individual and depends on various factors including the severity of the trauma, the individual’s personal resilience, the quality of their support systems, and the treatments received. For some, treatment may look like weekly therapy sessions, and for others, it may require more intensive care such as inpatient treatment at a residential facility, medication, or more advanced psychotherapy techniques.

The stages of PTSD recovery 

Stage 1: The Emergency Stage

Also sometimes referred to as the impact stage, this is the stage directly following the trauma. During this time, it’s normal to experience a range of intense and confusing emotions. You may feel like you’re in shock or numb and have trouble processing what happened in the moment.

Depending on the severity and complexity of the trauma and how it impacted you, symptoms may vary. For example, someone who was the victim of a robbery at gunpoint may develop longer-lasting, more intense fears than someone who witnessed a car wreck but was unharmed.

It is important to seek professional help as early as possible during this stage. Earlier intervention can help curb the progression of PTSD symptoms and help you move toward recovery sooner.

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Stage 2: The Rescue Stage

The second stage of PTSD treatment is called the “Rescue Stage” and marks the time in one’s recovery journey where you begin to address the details of the event that resulted in trauma. During this time, you may still feel symptoms like anxiety, anger, or hopelessness but as you progress, you can continue facing the cause of the trauma with greater ease.

Stage 3: The Intermediate Recovery Stage

The intermediate stage is when you start to see more significant improvements in your symptoms and overall functioning in daily activities. You may find that you’re able to return to work or school and resume some of your usual life with fewer feelings of distress.

You may also start to develop healthy coping mechanisms and begin to form new relationships with others. This is often a slower process, but with time and effort, it is possible to develop a support system of people who understand what you’re going through. It will also involve addressing and finding strategies to cope with new challenges that arise as you continue adjusting.

Stage 4: The Reconstruction Stage

The final stage of PTSD recovery is when you have made significant progress in your treatment and turn to focus on matters concerning your future. There may still be some lingering symptoms of trauma, but they are addressed with a therapist alongside setting new goals.

Seeking Help for PTSD

PTSD is often most effectively treated with assistance from a professional therapist and the help of a support system, such as family or a group of friends. Your therapist may also recommend attending a support group where you can share your experiences and hear from others who may have lived through similar circumstances to your own. This can help illustrate that you are not isolated in your thoughts and feelings and that there are others who have recovered from traumatic experiences in their lives. Diet and exercise can play a crucial role in maintaining mental health. For PTSD patients, a proper diet and moderate exercise can aid in managing their symptoms.

Medication can also help alleviate some symptoms of PTSD before, during, or after treatment. Antidepressants, for example, can help relieve certain mental health symptoms like feelings of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation along with regular appointments.