Sunday, August 1, 2021

Reader Questions: Is PTSD Treatable?

Dear Virginia, 

I am a Veteran who served in Vietnam class of 68/69. My MOS was 8404 or fleet marine force Navy Corpsman attached to the US Marines. I also lead a support group for Veterans. I am in the process of reading your book and using it to stimulate conversations. Your book is aimed at younger Veterans and rightfully so. You say you can be cured. Two questions: first what is your interpretation of cured? The second is what about us older Veterans who held it in and practiced PTSD for 30-40 years? 
Thank You in advance.

Rich Jakubczak “Doc Jake“

Dear Doc Jake,

Thank you for taking the time to reach out to me; I value hearing from you. This is an opportunity to discuss what treatment can do and what it can't.

I'm going to start with the latter. Treatment does not mean that we will forget about our traumatic experience. I understand that this is our wish though, and I get it. Who wants to remember losing a buddy, being raped, being trafficked, or any number of traumatic events? Unfortunately, treatment for PTSD does not erase our memories. 

The purpose of treatment for PTSD is to reduce our symptoms. Intrusive memories, nightmares, avoidance, and hypervigilance can get to a point where they affect our walking, talking everyday lives — and we're not able to function the way we once used to. "Cured" means that our symptoms reduce to the point where we can function in our roles again effectively. 

The goal of treatment is not to change the past (I wish we could do that, but it's not a thing), but to get our symptoms under control to the point where they no longer screw with us daily. We can reclaim our lives and function in our roles — as a parent, a friend, an employee, a brother, or a battle buddy. 

I am especially thankful for your second question, especially because it is not something I thought to address directly in the book and I think it's important. YES, I have personally worked with my brothers and sisters who served during the Vietnam era, and they have experienced incredible success in reducing their PTSD symptoms; it is damned inspiring. 

Evidence-Based Treatments (EBTs) like prolonged exposure, cognitive processing therapy, and EMDR work for chronic PTSD. The data are clear; whether we've been dealing with our PTSD for five years or 50, EBTs work. 

The hardest part of treatment for chronic PTSD is answering the first of the Big 2 Questions: "Do I believe that I can recover from my PTSD, even if I've been carrying it for decades?" 

I know that recovery is possible for Vietnam-era Vets because the research is clear and because I have seen it myself. In your support groups, I imagine that you get to see some incredible breakthroughs as well. The bottom line is that YES — recovery is absolutely possible, and EBTs make it damned likely. 

THANK YOU, Doc — your continued service as a peer support group leader and leader in your community is inspiring.

Virginia




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