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Misconceptions about PTSD: Part two

In this second episode of a two-part series on the PTSD Bytes podcast, host Dr. Colleen Becket-Davenport discusses some common PTSD myths with Dr. Lisa-Ann Cuccurullo, clinical psychologist and consultant for the National Center for PTSD’s “PTSD Consultation and Mentoring” programs.

Separating myth from fact

Myth: PTSD is all in your head.

Fact: PTSD is real and there are many PTSD symptoms beyond unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. While PTSD may include cognitive symptoms such as unhelpful thoughts, there are actually 20 possible PTSD symptoms. Some can be changes in behavior, such as always being on guard and looking out for danger or being easily startled. With all these different types of symptoms, PTSD doesn’t look the same for everyone. But we can see how a person’s life has changed before and after a traumatic event, so we know that PTSD is real.

Myth: Once you have PTSD, you have it for life. 

Fact: If you engage in a treatment that is best suited for you, the possibility of recovering is high. Everyone can benefit from treatment, such as seeing changes in their lifestyle and experiencing less distress. The National Center for PTSD’s Decision Aid can help you compare treatment options that have great outcomes. As part of the Decision Aid, you can learn more about what different treatments are like from videos of Veterans sharing their experiences. However, it is also important to talk to a licensed provider about what goals you have and work together to find a treatment plan that works best for you.

Myth: PTSD will go away on its own with time.

Fact: For the majority of cases, PTSD does not easily fade away. Seeking treatment for PTSD is ultimately a personal decision, but research shows only 12% of people will no longer have PTSD if they do not pursue any treatment. If your distress continues for more than a few weeks after experiencing trauma, it may be a good idea to get evaluated for PTSD and to learn more about treatments.

Myth: PTSD treatment is too painful and talking about trauma can make symptoms worse.

Fact: While it may be difficult to talk about traumatic experiences, working with a skilled provider can make the process easier. One of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD is avoidance, but with a provider well-trained in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD, you can work through any discomfort together. It is also important to engage in shared decision-making with your provider since not all treatments work the same way. Some may require more writing while others require work in between sessions. Communicate to your providers about what you have time to do, what you are most comfortable doing and what works best with your lifestyle.

Myth: Only people who experienced my trauma can understand what I am going through.

Fact: Trauma is more common than we might think, but everyone responds differently. Sixty percent of men and 50% of women experience trauma in their lifetime. Responses to trauma differ from person to person. You are the expert in your own life and how trauma has affected you. A good provider is an expert in PTSD and together you will be partners in your journey toward recovery.

Myth: Other people have it worse than me.

Fact: It’s normal to compare yourself to others, but your pain and suffering is valid. Everyone’s experiences of trauma and PTSD are different. Your provider will work with you as an individual—to understand your experience and to tailor treatment plans to alleviate your distress and suffering.

Additional information

National Center for PTSD’s guide on potential evidence-based treatments

PTSD Bytes episode on common PTSD myths part I

Learn more about VA mental health apps

Find mental health treatment at VA

More PTSD Bytes episodes

If you are a Veteran who is experiencing a crisis or supporting a loved one who is, call 988 and press 1 for immediate assistance, or chat online.

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