Friday, May 1, 2009

Fueling PTSD Recovery

So here we are, at the end of another month in the BRIGE THE GAP healing workshop. This month we covered a lot of great information in our search for PTSD Education. I think I’d have to say that PTSD U has been a success! We’ve studied the causes, symptoms, effects and several treatments for PTSD. We’ve heard from survivors healing and from professionals helping us on the path. As survivors, we’re really clear on what has happened to us after our trauma and what our options are to find relief. Education helps us reclaim our power. Are you feeling a little more powerful now??

Next week we’ll move on to a really critical task in PTSD recovery: Educating those around us. How family members, friends and colleagues understand and perceive PTSD, plus our experience of it, drastically impacts our relationships, careers and healing. Beginning on Monday the workshop will spend the next month exploring the 5Ws of how to educate those around us about how we’re living and coping with – and healing – PTSD. If you have specific situations you’d like addressed, feel free to shoot me an email with suggestions.

The final topic in this month’s focus on education is one that (while I've written about it before) I, personally, have not experienced: group therapy. When I was initially diagnosed with PTSD I was too afraid to speak with other survivors. I was frightened that I was too weak in my own self to bear someone else’s pain or aberrant behavior. I was afraid I’d be sucked into someone else’s experience when the truth was, I could barely withstand my own. My whole perception of group therapy was that it would overwhelm me with too much emotion and crash my fragile coping house of cards. OK, so I was wrong about all of that.

Since then, I’ve learned a couple relevant things:

1 – when we practice erecting emotional boundaries we insulate ourselves from the pain drain.

2 – when we reach out to and interact with other survivors an amazing thing happens: we discover a meta-level of communication that’s all ours; we bridge the gap of our isolation in a very unique way. Connecting with survivors can be like coming home from traveling abroad and suddenly, you’re back in a country where everyone speaks your language.

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs describes group therapy this way:

In group therapy, you talk with a group of people who also have been through a trauma and who have PTSD. Sharing your story with others may help you feel more comfortable talking about your trauma. This can help you cope with your symptoms, memories, and other parts of your life.

Group therapy helps you build relationships with others who understand what you've been through. You learn to deal with emotions such as shame, guilt, anger, rage, and fear. Sharing with the group also can help you build self-confidence and trust. You'll learn to focus on your present life, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the past.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? By the time I realized all of this, I was healed, so I missed out on this possibly very positive experience. If I had to do it again, I’d find a group – and fast. Not only does the group lessen our experience of isolation, it’s also a very economical alternative to private therapy. An added benefit: listening to others speak can help us develop a voice, vocabulary and language of our own.

The disappointing thing (and one for which I intend to advocate change) is that PTSD support groups are not yet ubiquitous. In my county, for example, there are none outside of the VA system and those do not allow civilians. Which leaves us with these options:

1 – Ask your therapist for a PTSD group referral in your area.

3 – Ask your therapist to start a PTSD group!

3 – Join another existing group related to PTSD. For example, anxiety or anger management.

4 - We have to be careful with this one, but: start your own group on a site such as In my zip code there is a waiting list for a PTSD group. (When dealing with strangers outside of a therapeutic environment we need to take precautions. I've worked with a local trauma therapist to develop a list of screening questions for group admission. I'm happy to share. Feel free to contact me for info.)

During healing PTSD education should be an ongoing activity, not only so that we learn more and more about ourselves, but also so that we continue to develop options for healing. We’re moving the pieces around in a healing puzzle here; the more we move the more we’ll find pieces that go together, fit, and snap into place so that a healed picture can eventually emerge.

Do you have experience with group therapy? Share your knowledge with everyone by leaving a comment.

(Photo: scottamus)


Wendy said...

There's another option for finding a PTSD therapy group in your area, if your PTSD is caused by childhood abuse. Call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child and tell them what the issue is, and what you need. They'll help you find resources in your area. That's how I found the group I needed, and it pretty much saved my life. I was suicidal, and had NO idea how to get help, until I went somewhere they were handing out brochures for the hotline.

They were great, and I am so grateful that they were there when I needed them.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@ Wendy - What a great tip and resource. Thank you for adding from your experience. Feel free to send me links and other tips. I'm building the Heal My PTSD, LLC, web site and would like to include as many good resources as possible.

In the meantime, if you'd like to write a guest post about your group therapy experience pleases contact me at parasitesof.themind @

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