Rethinking PTSD: Diminishing The Shame In Order To Heal

It’s time to rethink the way we view PTSD and also realize it can be healed.

sad man

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which many of us know as PTSD, is at epidemic levels in veterans. Currently 22 vets a day are committing suicide in the US. This is something I consider to be a national disgrace. In my practice I happily see veterans to help them recover from it; however, many veterans' anxiety keeps them reluctant to get help. It’s time to rethink the way we view PTSD and to realize it can be healed. The reasons for them not getting help can vary considerably, but there are a few common responses I do hear. They include:


• I could just overcome it if I try harder.
• This is something no one can help me with.
• What right do I have to get better when so many don’t even get to come home?
• You expect me to talk to some person who wasn’t there and that’s going to do it?
• This is just how life is now, and I’ll get used to it.

Some of them feel let down by the VA or have to wait a long time before the VA can see them. Others have undergone things so horrific they don’t even want to think about the events, much less talk about them. When it comes time to sleep, nightmares await. Others have a temper that is on a hair-trigger and find themselves blowing up often, sometimes over minor issues. There can be intense feelings of shame and helplessness. The resulting strain on the families can be overwhelming. Wives can feel they are at their wits end and are ready to leave. Children can witness outbursts of violence causing their own traumatization. 


Healing from PTSD absolutely is possible, even from extreme cases of it. One of the most important things to change is how we look at PTSD. It has nothing to do with a weakness of character. Just because the damage is psychological does not mean it’s something one can just change their mind about and become healed. Instead, look at PTSD as an injury. Telling someone to just think positively or be grateful is great and all, but for healing PTSD it’s about the same as asking for a man with a broken leg why he cannot run a marathon. 

With PTSD the brain has become hard wired into thinking it is currently, and constantly, under attack. When that happens, the nervous system responds to deal with the threat. This engages the deeply primal and powerful fight or flight response. It also includes the lesser known, but even more powerful freeze response. Certain therapies such as EMDR and Somatic Experiencing work on this level of the brain to get the brain to finally find peace. Since this fight/flight/freeze response is part of this ancient part of the brain which is also the most powerful, normal talk often can’t get deep enough into our consciousness to heal. This is why just venting only helps so much. You have to go beyond talk.

There have been many breakthroughs on this kind of therapy that actually allow for a complete recovery. Francine Shapiro, the founder of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing (S.E.), both have contributed greatly to this new way to unlock the power of our brains to help a person get healing where they previously thought it was impossible. Healing has come a long way from what most people might expect at a therapist's office.

PTSD is not something one has to have been a solider in combat to get. Sexual assault victims, people who have had a bad accident in a vehicle, or a terrible trip to the hospital or dental office can easily get it as well. Sometimes witnessing a loved one in such situations can cause it as well. When that happens, it can be even more difficult to treat because the person may often think that they shouldn’t be traumatized because they didn’t actually have the experience happen to them, yet the trauma and symptoms of PTSD show up anyway.


We as a society have to change how we look at mental health and the shame many people have about asking for help. Looking at PTSD as the injury it is will go a long way to erasing that shame and heal the vets who deserve more than what they are currently getting.