Cathy Wilson The Soldiers ProjectCathy Wilson, LPC owns LifePaths Counseling, a private practice with locations in Littleton and Centennial, Colorado where she and other counselors provide support and guidance to clients of all ages.  They help with many issues and help people to build resilience, improve well-being, and bring positive change to their lives.  You can find more information on her website at https://www.lifepathscounseling.com.

 

Cathy Wilson The Soldiers ProjectCathy Wilson, LPC owns LifePaths Counseling, a private practice with locations in Littleton and Centennial, Colorado where she and other counselors provide support and guidance to clients of all ages.  They help with many issues and help people to build resilience, improve well-being, and bring positive change to their lives.  You can find more information on her website at https://www.lifepathscounseling.com.

Retraumatization and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

By Cathy Wilson, LPC

If you’re reading this article you are likely to either be coping with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) yourself, or searching for ways to help another person cope with it.   Avoiding retraumatization as much as possible is one of the most important ways to do that.

What is Retraumatization?

Retraumatization is the very nature of PTSD. The disorder leaves people susceptible to being affected by something that reminds them of a traumatic event that has happened.

Retraumatization is how they are affected — it’s the emotional and physical state that someone with PTSD tries to avoid because it feels like the event is happening again. It could be brought on by similar:

  • Surroundings
  • Information taken in by any of the senses (hearing, seeing, etc.)
  • Dynamics (loss of power, control, or safety)
  • Situations

This is the reason many people and organizations try to raise awareness about the effect 4th of July fireworks can have on men and women who have served and survived, and who also cope with PTSD.

Even reading about a similar event, or seeing something similar on television or in a movie can be retraumatizing.   I know several veterans both personally and professionally, and just hearing about events such as the recent crash of a military transport plane in Mississippi that took 16 service members’ lives, and the collision involving the U.S.S. Fitzgerald that took 7 sailors’ lives cause them pain. No matter whether you are still active or have been a veteran for many years, these are still your brothers and sisters. When a person has PTSD, his or her reaction can be much stronger when there is a similarity.

What Can You Do?

It isn’t always possible to avoid being retraumatized. Whether you are dealing with PTSD yourself, your loved one is, or if you are a therapist, I hope the list I’ve included below will help you avoid retraumatization when you can, and to cope with it when you can’t:

Self Care – Self care and coping skill activities are extremely important for everyone but when you are dealing with a significant mental health issue like PTSD it is critical to take good care of yourself to maintain your resilience. You can find ideas on this handout on my website: Self Care and Coping Activities 

Acknowledge, Accept, Understand – The act of acknowledging that PTSD is a painful thing to deal with, accepting that it exists while the healing process happens, and understanding what kind of symptoms or problems can occur is a priceless gift of compassion for yourself or for another.

Don’t Force A Survivor To Talk About It – If you are the survivor, know that you don’t have to talk about what happened to you until you feel resilient and ready to do it. If you’re helping a survivor, it is important to know that trying to get him or her to talk about it or rush the healing process does more harm than good.

Encourage Therapy And/Or Medication – A therapist trained to work with trauma survivors can be a valuable resource and support, especially if the therapist can do EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. This type of therapy is very effective in helping people overcome PTSD. And, even if you are not a fan of psychoactive medications (like me), it may be worthwhile to consider it, and it doesn’t have to be for a long time.

Avoid Situations When You Can – It’s true that you won’t always be able to avoid situations or moments that can cause retraumatization. If there is a way to avoid it, do it! There’s no need to “push through it” if you don’t have to.   On the 4th of July, you could go camping far from any fireworks displays, or sleep in your basement with earplugs.

Patience – PTSD and retraumatization are difficult things to deal with. Healing takes time. Please be patient with yourself or the one you care about while the healing process does its work.

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