Friday, October 15, 2021

Choosing to Get Treatment - The "Big 2" Questions

This is Virginia with the Soldier's Guide to PTSD and I want to talk about choosing to get treatment for PTSD or moral injury. 

To help with this, I want to introduce you to the "Big 2" questions: (1) do I believe change is possible? and (2) do I want to change? 

These are the big two questions we need to ask and answer in a brutally honest way before we start our journey back from PTSD or Moral Injury. 

With question one we need to ask ourselves, do I believe that it is possible that I can recover from my PTSD symptoms and reclaim my life? We know that's what we want, but with Q1 we have to ask ourselves is this possible for me? 

The second question is a little more pesky because we have to ask ourselves (and honestly answer): do I want to recover from PTSD and am I willing to do the work that it's going to take? Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone and do something different because that's what it takes to get better?

These are difficult questions to answer, so let's not pretend they are easy. Choosing to go through treatment involves risk. It requires working with another person, a licensed treatment professional, and choosing to be authentic with them. This requires us to be vulnerable and expose our truth to another person. 

The reason we ask the big two questions is that no therapist, no research, no blog posts  no one and no thing outside of ourselves  can convince us something is true when we fundamentally believe it is not. 

This is a hard truth, but I'm not in the bullshit business. I am a therapist. The truth is that if we do not believe change is possible, we are absolutely correct. 

I recognize that it's far more likely you're on the fence about the Big 2, and you just don't know right now. Take it easy on yourself; it is 100% okay not to feel all in.

Instead I'll ask you this: is it possible that you're stronger than you think you are? 

Have you ever done something before that was hard or you felt was impossible at the time? Is it possible that your symptoms are undermining your attempts to make changes? Would you be willing to try tosee if you're stronger than you think you are?

As of this writing there are three evidence-based treatments for PTSD that are approved by the VA: prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and EMDR. They work for most people most of the time. It's not easy, but it's not forever either. It's 8 to 12 sessions. This means that if you're working with a therapist every week that's 2 to 3 months.

Even if you're not sure if you're all in, I encourage you to learn more about your PTSD symptoms and available treatments. We've created a Free Workbook to help you identify your symptoms so that you can make an informed decision to reclaim your life from PTSD and Moral Injury.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Finding the Right Therapist for You


I want to take a moment to talk to you about how not every therapist is the right therapist for you.

Having a therapist we can trust is an important cornerstone for social support network, and it is vital to our recovery from PTSD and moral injury. In counseling, this is called the therapeutic relationship, and it is incredibly important.

Healing from PTSD requires radical authenticity on our part and skill and expertise on the part of our therapist. It may take a while to find the right therapist for you, and that's okay. It doesn't mean that you are beyond help.

In 2008 when I was at my worst with my own PTSD, I was command-directed to see a psychiatrist. This was at a military treatment facility and the psychiatrist was a white male colonel. I was suicidal, vulnerable, and frankly, I was desperate. I didn't understand what was happening to me and I believed that I was going crazy. I talked with this psychiatrist for the better part of an hour, and then he said to me, "Virginia there's nothing I can do to help you if you can't be honest with me." I was bewildered. He then qualified his statement by saying, "women don't serve in combat and I can't help you if you're not telling me the truth."

I wish I were making this up. I was labeled with a personality disorder and my experience was completely dismissed. This took a terrible situation and made it worse.

I'm not sharing this story with you for pity; I'm sharing it for awareness. After I became a therapist myself, I found that the experience of being belittled and dismissed is more common than I could have imagined, especially for female military members, persons of color, and those who identify as part of the queer community. Even in the current environment of me too and racial reckoning, clients have reported to me that they have not been believed when they reported their experience during active service or after, even with a therapist. 

And I want to be very clear: that is absolutely not okay. There is no excuse for this behavior from a mental health professional. 

Jennifer Freyd, with the University of Oregon, researches and writes about institutional betrayal and I recommend her work to learn more about this. 

But I say all that to say this: some therapists are unprofessional or simply not good at their jobs. I'm not trying to be ugly; it is what it is. 

If a mental health professional chooses not to believe your experience, that probably says a lot more about them than it does about you. And I know the outcome can be devastating. 

I encourage you to advocate for yourself and keep leaning forward so that you can get the help you deserve to reclaim your life.

We've created a Free Workbook to help you identify your symptoms so that you can make an informed decision to reclaim your life from PTSD and Moral Injury.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

If What We're Doing Isn't Working, What Next?

When it comes to military PTSD and suicide, one thing is clear. What we are doing is not working.

Two data points from June 2021 immediately jump to mind and I've linked the studies to our Facebook page and in this post. According a 17 June 2021 survey, 35% of military connected individuals believe that PTSD is not treatable. This is a disappointing but not surprising outcome.

Also under the heading of disappointing but not surprising, the cost of war project at Brown University released a study on June 21st 2021 that more than four times the number of soldiers killed in combat have taken their own life through suicide since 9/11.

We've been talking about veteran suicide and PTSD for over a decade. PTSD awareness now has its own month in June, we have Master Resiliency Training, and every year I see people doing 22 push-ups on their Facebook pages military suicide awareness. Every year. For the last 10 years.

Albert Einstein said "No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it." A simpler version of this, which I use every day, is "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

So what can we do differently? Here are my humble suggestions:
  1. Identify the problem. Discuss the no-shit facts about PTSD in a language that Service Members — and anyone else — can understand. PTSD is an incredibly logical disorder, and we don't need to have a PhD to understand it. 
  2. Discuss the courses of action. PTSD is completely treatable. As of this recording, there are three evidence-based treatments that are approved by the VA: prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and EMDR. They work for most people most of the time, whether you have been dealing with symptoms for 5 years or 5 decades. 
  3. Take action. Understand your symptoms, advocate for yourself, and ask for evidence-based treatments by name.

I encourage you to learn more about your PTSD symptoms and available treatments. We've created a Free Workbook to help you identify your symptoms so that you can make an informed decision to reclaim your life from PTSD and Moral Injury.