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.

About these ads
This entry was posted in Abuse, Childhood Abuse, Complex Trauma, Dissociation, Health, Invisible Illness, Mental Health, Psychologist, Relationships, Severe Trauma, Therapy, Trauma and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Can Complex PTSD Be Cured?

  1. birdfeeder says:

    Thank you for writing this, and especially for linking to your earlier post about Steven Gold’s work. I bought his book “Not Trauma Alone” a few years ago and, even though it leaves out some very important concepts and has some very serious omissions (it was written over 10 years ago after all), I think his approach and concept is absolutely ground-breakingly brilliant, and I hope that he will follow it up with the research to create the statistics to prove its worth and importance. It’s such an important concept, but it needs a business case for it in order for it to be included in public policy and programs.

    Re: your point about a therapeutic alliance. I too believe that this is important, but for those of us with very serious abuse histories – especially those whose abuse doesn’t fit within the current PC ideology that seems to have prevailed for decades within much of the therapeutic community – this is an extremely rare commodity which is difficult, and ofttimes impossible, to find. My own experience has been that “good-enough” therapists gave me some comfort and possibly helped me to survive, but were ultimately harmful because they inevitably steered me away from the most traumatic aspects of my history, and prevented processing that I otherwise would have done. I think avoiding crisis is not always a healthy thing if it allows the truth about the underlying situation to remain unacknowledged.

    Sadism. No-one ever speaks about sadism. Especially in women.

    I don’t believe that the training most mental health professionals receive is adequate for them to be either willing or able to “go there” with their most severely abused clients. And yet, as you point out, the therapeutic allience adequate enough to heal CPTSD requires that. The mental health field is still riddled with references to depression and anxiety, and ‘unhealthy thinking’ with no corresponding mention of trauma and abuse, even though the root cause of a high percentage of that anxiety and depression is unprocessed (and unacknowledged) abuse. When you read the literature it seems that people like Casey Anthony, Eunice Spry, et. al. don’t exist, or at minimum aren’t significant or important enough to warrant mention in the psychiatric literature in terms of the harm they cause to their victims. Discussion of mental health issues in terms of public policy still come down, for the most part, to the ‘brain chemical disruption’ theory. Which of course puts the onus, focus and responsibility squarely on the victim and subtly (and sometimes directly) labels them as being deficient in some way rather than a victim of denied justice.

    I’ve been watching with a great deal of interest (and frustration and anger) the recent movements/commissions/etc… here in Canada re: the need for more mental ‘health’ resources and treatment. It gets lots and lots and lots of press. But nowhere is the role of trauma and abuse and victimization ever mentioned except very very occasionaly in passing, and the few times it does it’s always in reference to increased rates of abuse against those who are already mentally ‘ill’. I’ve yet to see a single reference in any of the discussions of the role of trauma in creating mental illness. And yet we are the nation that produced Russell Williams, Robert Pickton, Karla Homolka/Paul Bernardo (in the US you know them as the “Ken and Barbie killers”), Melissa Alexander, and Dr. Shirley Turner (from. the documentary “Dear Zachary”). Even worse, we let Karla Homolka (a sadistic serial sexual murderer) leave jail after a mere 12 years with no conditions and no sexual offender status. So she has now gone on to have three children, sells baby clothes online (and dispenses parenting advice) to unsuspecting customers, and teaches youth as an ESL teacher.

    Speaking from my own experience in IT, if you can’t correctly identify a problem’s root cause you’ll never solve it or prevent its reoccurance.

    So I don’t know how we’re going to, as a society, get to the place where we can provide places of healing for CPTSD survivors if we can’t bring ourselves to even speak about what created that CPTSD in the first place.

    My apologies for the rant here, after a post that is very positive and needed. I needed to get that off my chest.

  2. Anonymous says:

    thank you, birdfeeder! That was no rant, but clear thought and necessary speech, about both society and therapy training…

  3. Marty says:

    If You visit the discussion boards for PTSD; no way can this be healed. If you believe and literally say that, then it is your reality. Complex PTSD in my experience does not heal quickly or easily. It heals best if you can leave thought alone and trust for a while. It took me 6 months of using ACT therapy and meditating every day for hours just to budge this companion from childhood.

    It is not easy and it takes someone who has willpower and is willing to take action.

    It is very curable, I do not know about that word and see too many PTSD suffers get hung up in discussion about words like cured, victim shame. Let words be, they can exist on their own for a while.

    If you just determine to try hard, then things shift and you suddenly take responsibility. I would share that just giving your all and trying everyday can elevate your life and enjoyment. Every breath you give to complex PTSD can never be recovered.

    At my age that was enough to say no more power from me, not another breath. Stubborn I guess

  4. Paula says:

    I too have CPTSD/DID, and have been in therapy since I was 15. I am now 52. I really began identifying my real issues after I went to treatment for my anorexia at age 29. It was like peeling an onion. Identifying and working through each layer brought me closer to the core issues-disrupted attachment, and trust in anything. Medication has been a god send and I am so grateful every morning when I take my few med; grateful that they are available.
    As others have stated, recovery is a long road, because the damage is so deep. However there are treatment techniques that make it much easier to bear and bring healing faster. The techniques that I have found are EMDR and somatasensory therapy. Part of those treatments require very little talking. Talking is safe for me but being able to process the pain at a level where there are no words has been miraculous.
    There are practitioners trained in EMDR all over the world. Training in somatosensory is just catching on. You can find an EMDR trained therapist at EMDR.com, and can find a somatosensory therapist on their website. Often times, the somatosensory therapist is also trained in EMDR.
    I really encourage you to keep looking for help and working on yourself. I never thought I would have made it this far in my own recovery. The inner freedom I experience is well worth all the work involved.
    Warmly
    Phoenix

  5. fikadax says:

    In my world – I don´t have PTSD – maybe symptoms of “PTSD”. PTSD is in my world an analytic tools for me and others how want highlight parts of my being, my behavior, my experience, my feelings, my strategies for surviving, live and living by my self and in social context.

    “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 have
    experience from other persons “distructive”

    I have had the same thoughts as above as long as I can remember, until now. Now I understand I have been abused and had experience of distructive behaviors, in social context. I had accused my self of being abused, because I am not enough, a person who is going to love or respect. Some part of me feels like the devil inside me, and there fore I have got what I have earned.

    Now I know that my earlier experience was too much for me, I havn´t the ability to handle my reactions of fear, threat , exposedness. Parts of or the most parts of my feelings and my body get stoned. The lifelong consequences of this has been dramatically for my life, meaning of life, my ability to live a good life, feeling good and be a living person. I understand I can not be free of how I experienced earlier situations, they is a part of human reactions. I understand I can not be free my pain, my strategies or way of handled my reactions are part of my possibilities of strategies or handlings. Now I have experience I can be healed, resolve my reactions, my strategies, my experience and my feelings, so I can be free from the past, from my reproduction of the past, from the closed way of understanding my self, the “reality” of life and living in social context and so on. I need to be aware of the present, my ability to have new experience of “reality” without the past prediction. I need help to deplore the part of life that has been taken from me.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “So I don’t know how we’re going to, as a society, get to the place where we can provide places of healing for CPTSD survivors if we can’t bring ourselves to even speak about what created that CPTSD in the first place.”

    Birdfeeder! That comment is a wonderful thing to see! So true. I asked my psychiatrist intern recently how much of psychiatric illness was actually normal abuse and neglect *effects* .vs. organic illness… I was pleased she answered with a guess of 80%. That’s a good start.

  7. Jaliya says:

    I have to admit that my instinctive answer to the question, ‘Can CPTSD be cured?’ is No. ‘No’ because I’ve lived with it my entire life — beginning with a six-week premature birth and living my first three months in a late-1950s NICU. ‘No’ because the aftermaths of complex / multiple traumas are not a disease. They are the effects of grave existential injury.

    Can a person with CPTSD heal? — Yes. The word ‘heal’ comes from the Old English ‘healen’, which means ‘to make whole.’ Even with all the damage that was done to my body and being for many years, I am alive … thus I am whole. Whole in one particular way. I have been marked for life by trauma, but that is not my entire personhood.

    I have experienced many forms of therapy and treatment … and I have also been a therapist. I’ve come to see CPTSD as a condition (at least in my own circumstances) akin to remitting / relapsing multiple sclerosis –> There have been periods of relative normalcy and periods of traumatic reactivation … Both can last from hours to days to years. The condition in myself comes and goes; it has never left entirely. I live with it now with as much mindfulness, mercy, and volition as possible …

    The best medicine for CPTSD? — Loving, safe relation with at least one other person. A therapeutic alliance, as you write, Kathleen, can be one such form of relation … and others are just as important — an understanding mate, a cherished friend, a beloved animal … and most of all, eventually, a loving and safe relation with oneself. This, I am learning, is the ultimate safe relation …

  8. Martha says:

    Birdfeeder I completely agree with your take on the mental health campaign in Canada right now. Why is there so little talk of abuse? Recently The Current did a program on non-military forms of PTSD, but still there was little mention of abuse. The host seemed a fixated on sexual harassment, which is certainly a concern, but I think that she missed the boat on highlighting other types of abuse.

  9. Terry says:

    “The best medicine for CPTSD? — Loving, safe relation with at least one other person. A therapeutic alliance, as you write, Kathleen, can be one such form of relation … and others are just as important — an understanding mate, a cherished friend, a beloved animal … and most of all, eventually, a loving and safe relation with oneself. This, I am learning, is the ultimate safe relation …” Quoted frrom Jaliya above.

    Yes , one can experience the ongoing daily healing from the trauma of CPTSD. I am in total agreement with the above quote. I have suffered from the devastating effects of childhood trauma, abuse and violence all of my life; but everyday I have experienced ongoing healing. I am a born-again Christian. Everyday the Lord has gently led me through these traumatic experiences. Don’t get me wrong that healing process has included many helping hands of gifted people, authors, therapists, etc. But it has been that commitment to my relationship and faith journey with the Lord that has led me to this restored life that I enjoy today. All of us human beings are dealing with various and sundry conditions. CPTSD just happens to be one that has resulted in very serious and devastating consequences in our lives. I am so blessed today to know that I wasn’t alone and a total freak as I struggled with the dreadful outcomes of these conditions. Knowing that the condition has a label and that I am not alone in my recovery from these mental health conditions has been a source of tremendous healing in my life. I am deeply blessed that the mental health community is starting to recognize the seriousness of this condition and taking the steps necessary to find answers for the benefit of all of us who have suffered from this trauma.

    Yes, I can and will testify that recovery from the damages of CPTSD is possible but it will take time and total dedication especially in the trying times. Persevere, I am here to testify that it is well worth the effort by God’s grace and mercy.

  10. Pingback: How to Avoid an Abuser: Understanding Grooming | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma

  11. htmlforfood says:

    I read through this post as well as the original post on C-PTSD and the comments before starting this reply and I have to say that your statement that PTSD or C-PTSD can be ‘cured’ or ‘healed’ is very misleading. Can the symptoms of either be managed to the point where they almost never come up in day-to-day life? Yes. Can it be ‘cured’ in any sense of the word?

    My understanding (admittedly a lay understanding) is that PTSD is caused by a particular remapping of the brain that is actually rather rare among even severe trauma sufferers. To ‘cure’ it would be a lot like trying to ‘un-cook’ an egg.

    A combination of long-term therapy that includes learning management skills and medications, over a significant period of time can help alleviate the symptoms caused by triggers to almost nothing, but it also takes a great deal of self management and discipline on the part of the sufferer.

    For me, I suffer from Delayed-Onset PTSD as a result of my non-military experience as a photographer in 1989 Beirut. In therapy, my childhood experiences in an abusive household with an alcoholic, violent Vietnam Vet father and a staunchly religious and emotionally distant mother led to the additional quasi-diagnosis of C-PTSD.

    In either case, to talk of ‘healing’ from it or being ‘cured’ of it seems to be unrealistic when the focus should be on dealing with it and managing it.

    Would love to hear what you have to say, though this is already an old post.

    • What I have to say is that yes indeed people with PTSD and C-PTSD can completely heal. The uncooking an egg is not an apt analogy. We have learned (and keep learning more) about how trauma re-wires or re-maps the brain. What we also know is that the brain can be re-wired and re-mapped (check out information about neuroplasticity)! Long-term trauma focused therapy and other things I have written about (mindfulness, meditation, gardening even) can have this profound an impact.

      And in addition to what the research has to say, every day I get to witness trauma survivors living this reality of healing from trauma. I wouldn’t encourage this path if I did not know it to be realistic and attainable.

      • Bonnie says:

        Dr. Young,

        45 years of trauma, abuse, neglect… Is there hope for my CPTSD at this late stage in life? With all of these years behind me?

      • I firmly believe that there is always hope! Actively participating in trauma-informed therapy can help at any point in your life.

        Best wishes to all of you as you look for what you need! Remember to honor your strength, the strength that keeps you looking and trying again!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am shoveled with PTSD………since early age. Guns,knives against my life…..hijacked on airline. Beaten and raped in early years. Never said a word. Had to throw baby away by teacher whom raped me………Delivered myself………..Beaten in later years. All kept inside and kept on working at a high level job. Now…………coming apart………………alcohol started it at age 33. Been to rehaps……….not the best in town…………….all from jails……a shock. Never jailed,arrested just hurting and a drunk to forget. Witnessed deaths, on and on. At the end of my rope. No antidepresent helps…………….severe knee jerk reactions…………always apologize for the shock factor I present. Terrible Panic Attacks………….extreme. I do need help. I am 66 and tired. A Believer………..which has kept me searching for an answer.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow Anonymous normally I totally don’t reply to these things because it’s my parent’s computer and I’m scare they’ll see my posts… nor do I vote for the X factor or Big Brother because I’m rebellious and non-compliant and I figure if they’re going to win they’re going to do it without my vote… however your post COMPELLED me to write to you and send my love!!!!!!!!! Libby xx

      • Anonymous says:

        Just found this again…………thank you Libby. I have been thru so many office doors of so called shrinks,pastors,counselors and almost gave up. I cannot as my faith in our LORD condemns that. Finally getting some decent help…………I think. Only been two weeks.

    • Libby says:

      Good luck mate. xxLibby

    • sujanna says:

      Thanks for sharing. I am 60 and have done more work on my trauma in the last year than i have done in my life. My life is not taken up with kids, agenda’s. Less responsibilities have opened the door for the long journey to healing. Like Jilaya posted: “The word ‘heal’ comes from the Old English ‘healen’, which means ‘to make whole.’ There was not the information 30 yrs ago to even know what the hell was wrong with me. Simply that i was an alcoholic. In retrospect drinking kept me from committing suicide but also contributed to my insanity. I can no longer suppress the grief and memories. I am currently reading ‘Internal Family Systems Model’ Richard C. Schwartz,PH.D. It has been really instrumental in helping me understand how many personalities I have in place to deal with just living. I am in a survivors group and doing one on one therapy. The irony is no one knew how fucked up I was/am. Like you I sucked it up and never went inside. I didn’t want to feel or understand the damage done. I recently had a major trigger 3 weeks ago that has put me in a state of shock and despair. Full body memories as if i were experiencing the traumas that happened 57 yrs ago. I have spent the last 3 weeks trying to figure out what happened to me. I don’t want to leave the house for fear of being exposed to any ‘triggers’. I am practicing self care and nurturing myself. taking two baths a day. not drinking. feeding myself. I have disengaged from the world for now. not isolating per say, simply having a safe place to grieve.

    • Bonnie says:

      I continue to have hope as well and yet am tired of the struggle of hanging in there in hope that eventually I can be healed.

  13. Tegs says:

    I am having difficulty discerning which of my 2 most traumatic experiences is the crux of my Complex Trauma: intense and severe bullying or several near death medical experiences during the course of, and post bullying. Could it be a combination of the two? Fortunately I have a loving husband who has stood by me through more than I would expect anyone to withstand and he’s very adamant that he’s going to help me with handling my CPTSD. But I still do not know exactly where the trauma comes from? Others are likely to scoff at the bullying aspect and all I have to say to them is “you weren’t there, every goddamn day”, but I do believe it plays a big role in who I am today. But I have also experienced sexual assault and an abusive relationship, which do not seem to have had much of an effect on me. My psychologist suggested that it is everything. Could this be possible?

  14. Carmen says:

    I think one of the major problems with “curing” C-PTSD is simply the fact that many sufferers don’t have the money–or time–for therapy. I don’t have the money for therapy, but have been lucky to have the time recently (in an MFA program), and the ability to finally write about it.

    I was once diagnosed with PTSD, but it’s pretty clear to me that what I suffer from is C-PTSD. I had a traumatic, extended illness as a child, and was told I was mentally ill (I was not). I was painted as the “bad one” in my family, the black sheep. I had a very difficult relationship with my father; I know he is only human, and I was a rebellious child even before I got sick (he had an abusive upbringing himself, and I can only imagine this made it difficult for him to reconcile with me, and that in fact he projected some of his feelings about that abuse onto me, his young daughter). As a result I always sought male approval while also being extremely resentful of (especially male) authority. I was a victim of rape/molestation/sexual assault many times, starting at a young age. I was also in a long violent relationship as a very young woman, with a young man who was in turn abused by his father. I have had difficulty in establishing closeness with men, despite my sexual attraction to them; I alternate between promiscuity and a fearful celibacy; I have sought out abusers; I find it impossible to stand up for myself when being attacked, though I have no problem at all standing up for others. I long to be in a loving relationship with a man one day, but it feels impossible. I am struggling right now just to love and care for myself, and not feel bad, broken, ashamed, guilty, and worthless. However, I have had many loving friendships with women, which I take as a hopeful sign–that people see something in me of worth, and that I am capable, in fact, of loving someone back. Though even with them, I guard my heart carefully.

    I have a tendency to project my extreme anger onto innocent men, particularly those who incite both attraction and mistrust in me. I wish I could afford therapy. I only hope that my writing will help.

    I have also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and am currently figuring out the medication for that. But the C-PTSD–the ongoing problems related to the trauma I’ve experienced (both disassociation and rumination, at different periods, and attachment difficulties)–it’s good to know at least that that is what’s going on, and to try to be cogniscent of it, so I can begin to change those behaviors. I can’t change what happened in the past, but maybe I can change what happens in the future.

    Good luck to everyone here.

  15. sujanna says:

    I just found this sight and am grateful for the postings. I liked Jaliya’s post about ‘healing’. ‘to be made whole’. this can work for me. At 3 yrs old i was tortured/traumatized. At 12 yrs old had a stepfather that sexually, psychically, spiritually abused me. I had a recent traumatic event i witnessed that sent me to one of the darkest places i have been. I have drank my way through life. I would quit then start up again. I have done little therapy up until a year ago. I have never been so paralyzed as I am right now. what i am doing now is integrating these fractured split off parts of myself. Lots of excruciating grief work. i practice many many tenets of spiritual practices from native american, buddhism, taoism. However i tether myself to Christ and not Christianity. If i thought there was no healing i wouldn’t be on this site..

  16. Jaliya says:

    Back again! If any of you love to read … Peter A. Levine’s book, ‘In An Unspoken Voice’, has been a life- and sanity-saver. It’s my trauma ‘bible’. He has poured over forty years of personal experience, expertise, scholarship, and therapeutic / professional practice into this book.

  17. Pingback: 2013 in review | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

  18. thank you for writing this. as someone who struggles with PTSD form abuse it is helpful to hear someone be optimistic about the course. My therapist tells me similar things, but maybe the more times I hear it, the more it will sink in. thank you!

  19. Pingback: Treating Trauma and the Therapeutic Frame | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s