Understanding the recovery process of PTSD

Understanding the recovery process of PTSD

PTSD & C-PTSD are both entirely possible to recover from, however, it’s not always straightforward or simple.

For many people, simply asking for help, or admitting that they are struggling can be the biggest hurdle – once you’ve reached out to a friend or your GP, someone else can then help you when you need it – even if it’s just to listen, or chat about treatment options

But what happens if your recovery isn’t going the way you want it to? Perhaps you’ve started treatment and it’s just not working as fast as you want it to – or you feel it’s not making a difference. It’s important to speak to your therapist or GP about your concerns, but most importantly, as hard as it may be, trust the process.

There may be reasons why it’s not working as quickly for you as you’d like, and sometimes you may be  (unknowingly) putting obstacles in the way of your recovery. Understanding the blockers you’re putting in place (usually unconsciously) is the first step to eliminating them. Here are some examples we’ve come across before, that can slow down or prevent treatment from being as effective as it can be:

  • You feel unworthy: No matter what anyone says, your feelings are valid. Don’t listen to those ignorant of PTSD, or those voices in your head saying ‘it won’t work’ – it can, and it will.
  • You’re moving too fast: Your brain, emotions and mind need to work together, so don’t rush the recovery process. Take the time you need.
  • You’ve lost your way: You may have approached one element of recovery which has taken you further away from the main trauma you needed to address – this may happen more with those with C-PTSD, but take time to recognise this feeling for what it is, and don’t lose motivation towards the end goal of full recovery.
  • Control: It’s normal to use control as a way of ‘staying safe’ however, in order for recovery to work fully, you need a free and open environment to work with. Trust that things can, and will, get better.
  • You’re overwhelmed: Going through treatment can seem a daunting task – you feel lower than you’ve ever felt before, and so recovery seems like a long road ahead. Knowledge is power with PTSD & C-PTSD – knowing what is involved in treatment can be a big comfort. Read the case studies here to see how others have triumphed.
  • The emotional and physical cost: Your PTSD-led thoughts can make recovery seem like a costly process in terms of your feelings, relationships, money and time – understanding that you can return to the ‘old you’ will hopefully make it seems worthwhile.
  • Self-trust: You may not feel confident enough to take the right path of recovery, to choose the right treatment or to do what’s necessary to recover  from PTSD & C-PTSD. Follow the advice of the professionals, and trust yourself when it comes to your well-being.
  • Recovery isn’t balanced: If you concentrate too much on recovery, and don’t give yourself the space to breathe, it can be detrimental to treatment. Similarly, if you don’t focus enough on recovery, it may stop the progress. Make sure you give yourself the right time that you need.
  • You simply don’t want to go through treatment There are lots of reasons somebody might be reluctant to start treatment – please read the section below to find out more, and how to help you overcome these fears.
  • Commitment: You need to emotionally ‘buy into’ your treatment and the recovery – without this, you’re disconnected from the purpose and can negatively affect the process – be dedicated to trusting that the treatment can be successful. It’s important you get the most from your therapist that you can.

If you recognise any of these feelings in yourself, talk with your GP or a loved one. If you can, try to resolve the conflict of the obstacle in your way with the tips above, allowing your recovery process to move forward once more.

Why someone may be reluctant to seek treatment for PTSD or C-PTSD

Until relatively recently, PTSD and C-PTSD were thought to be incurable conditions – but research shows it is possible to effectively treat both conditions with treatments such as EMDR and CBT

If you, or your loved one has been diagnosed with PTSD or C-PTSD, it may then be difficult to explain, or understand why they are not ready for treatment or seem resistant to any help, but there may be a variety of reasons why such as:

  • Some people are simply unaware treatments exist: Because of the relatively ‘new’ discovery of treatments in the 80’s and 90’s – there is still a lot of incorrect information online, in books and even coming from medical professionals who’ve not kept up to date with advances in treatments. Because of this, they may have been told that PTSD or C-PTSD is something you just need to ‘live with’ and ‘manage’ and so are simply unaware that treatment, and being free from symptoms is possible. 
  • Mistrust about confidentiality: Sometimes people with particular jobs or roles in society are afraid to seek support as they fear the reaction to their condition. All therapists are bound by confidentiality agreements, and many people find revealing to their PTSD & C-PTSD diagnosis provides them with a great sense of relief.
  • Being afraid to lose control: For some people, they’ve managed their PTSD or C-PTSD symptoms for years, and so beginning treatment can feel like they’re handing that control over to someone else, which can. be very scary. Trust your medical professional – they will work with you to find the best treatment options for you. 
  • They think they can find another way: For some people they put too much pressure on themselves for self-reliance, and may to turn to drugs or alcohol to ‘self medicate’ or feel they are in control. 
  • They’ve had a bad experience with a medical practitioner before: Nobody is perfect, but a bad experience with a therapist or GP can cause a huge amount of distrust and negative feelings towards medical professionals in general. Treatment requires trust, and if this trust has previously been broken, it can be hard to rebuild. 
  • Feeling others deserve the treatment more: With the common knowledge that NHS services are under pressure, some people feel they will ‘give up their space’ so that someone else who needs it more can get the support they need. Everyone deserves treatment equally – and once you’ve had treatment you could always volunteer with PTSD UK to ‘give back’ to help others too.
  • Not wanting to burden others: Many people don’t want to share their worst experiences with others (even health professionals) for fear of burdening them with such horrors. They may feel they can ‘shield’ them from the pain they are going through.
  • Feeling they may dishonour or forget about those they’ve lost through the trauma: Guilt can play huge part in PTSD and C-PTSD, particularly where the trauma involved other people getting hurt or dying. The fear may be that treatment will allow them to ‘forget’ those that were lost or injured, and they are dishonouring their memory by ridding themselves of the pain associated with that loss. With PTSD & C-PTSD treatment, the aim is to remove the ‘charge’ of emotions, so it doesn’t affect your day to day life. You will still have a memory, but it won’t be destructive and disabling – so you may find you can do more to honour people you’ve lost, when you have the ‘space’ to do so.
  • Language barriers: They may simply have difficulty in talking about their traumatic experiences, or undergoing treatment if English isn’t their first language, but the therapy is being delivered in English.
  • They may not realise their symptoms are part of a condition such as PTSD or C-PTSD: They may be experiencing life-changing symptoms since their trauma, but might not be able to connect the two and therefore don’t understand that treatment can stop these symptoms from occurring.
  • Financial barriers: Although many treatments are available on the NHS, many people want to turn to private treatment options to reducing waiting times – although for some people, this cost is just too much for them. 
  • They can’t find the ‘right’ therapist: It’s important to find a therapist that you can trust and be comfortable with – and for some people this can take a little time. Find out more about how to help find the right therapist here
  • Stigma/embarrassment/shame or fear that others will judge or pity them: Admitting there is a problem, or to explain why they need time off work for appointments can make many people avoid treatment altogether – they don’t want others to find out they have PTSD or C-PTSD because they’re embarrassed, or don’t want a negative reaction from people.
  • Ongoing traumas: For some people, treatment just isn’t their first priority if they’re still in a traumatic situation such as domestic abuse, homelessness or persistent bullying. 
  • Limited resources: Many people experience long waiting times for treatment through the NHS – the additional isolation and helplessness that this brings can be enough for some people to think ‘I’ll just rely on myself rather than have to wait’ – it gives them back a sense of control, which is often a feeling lacking in people with PTSD and C-PTSD.
  • Avoidance: One of the core PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms is avoidance – they very often avoid talking, or thinking about their trauma. Many people avoid treatment as it requires them to focus on their thoughts, feelings and the original trauma – something which they may have spent years avoiding.

At PTSD UK, much of the work we do looks at how we can help remove these barriers in the short and long term. Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD and C-PTSD – so we need to help people undergo treatment as soon as they’re ready.

For more support to get the most out of you treatment, when you’re ready to do so, visit this page on our website to help


Find out more about the process of treatments in our EMDR case studies and CBT case studies. 

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Treatments for PTSD

It is possible for PTSD & C-PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD & C-PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.