Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dr. Kathleen Young - Can Complex PTSD Be Cured?

This is a topic I am studying of late, so I thought I might share this article by Dr. Young. I totally agree with her that the relationship is the most important element in healing complex PTSD.

Can Complex PTSD Be Cured?


Recently a reader asked a version of this question in response to my post about Complex PTSD:

…I have been told by many doctors, therapists, psychitrists, and psychologists that I will always have PTSD. I have only found one person willing to help with complex ptsd. I am starting to feel angry that I have to live with the consiquences of someones distructive behaviors. I am starting to feel like their is little hope of ever having this cptsd to stop.

I would like to know the length of therapy that is expected for Cptsd.
I wish I could feel normal again and not relieve tramatic events, have issues with relationships, abandoment issues, and mental health issues….

My short answer to this question of cure is a resounding “Yes!”

My longer answer involves first mentioning that I am not a fan of the word “cure”, as I feel it is important to understand Complex PTSD not as an illness or even a disorder (despite the D) but as the natural, understandable result of repeated, prolonged trauma at the hands of trusted caretakers. That clarified, do I believe that healing and repair of the wounding take place? Yes indeed! Can those with complex PTSD live rich and satisfying lives? Yes! And in response to the commenter’s specific concerns, this can indeed include no longer relieving traumatic material and the ability to create and sustain healthy relationships.

This therapy work takes more than processing trauma, brief therapy techniques, or medication, although all my be useful at some point. As I have described in several prior posts, healing from complex trauma requires the development of skills and capacities such as affect-regulation, staying present with feelings vs. dissociating, self-soothing, and the ability to love oneself.

What makes this level of healing possible? A therapeutic alliance.

Healing complex trauma requires connection, attachment. The skills that are missing are missing because things went terribly wrong in early relationships, thus a different kind of relationship is required to master them now. The neglect, abuse, betrayal and just plain ineffective environment of your earliest relationships have caused you to develop complex PTSD. It is in the context of a different kind of relationship that you can identify, understand and ultimately heal the impact of your early experiences.

This different kind of relationship happens with the development over time of a good-enough therapeutic alliance. A good-enough alliance is not perfect (no relationship is), but it is strong enough to withstand the inevitable empathic breaks and ruptures. It is a relationship in which repair of the same takes place. Over and over again as needed.

Questions regarding the length of therapy are so common and understandable! When we are talking about depth work of the sort described above I believe it is important to prepare for a marathon rather than a sprint. I know that “it takes as long as it takes” is a very unsatisfying answer, and yet I know it to be true.

If your mental health professionals tell you complex PTSD is incurable or untreatable it is time to seek new providers! Find someone who understands the nature of this work and has the expertise you need. Pick a therapist who feels like a good fit and commit to talking about the relationship rather than fleeing when the going gets tough. Then prepare to hang in there for the long haul. You deserve it and it is possible!

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.


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