Have you ever wondered whether PTSD ever goes away or if it can be cured? I like to use the term "resolution" instead of cure because traumatization is a nervous system alteration that lasts as long as the fear or sense of danger is not resolved.
According to research results, PTSD tends to fade away little by little because our body, in general, and nervous system, in particular, are always trying to regain balance. It’s very demanding for your brain to operate in survival mode (the altered operation after experiencing traumatic events) all the time. That's why it works on going back to where it was before the incident. Studies say that 70 to 80% of people who go through a traumatic event don’t develop PTSD, and that around 75% of those who develop the disorder heal within a year.
PTSD develops because the brain interprets that the person is at risk and that they have almost no chance of making it without forcing the system to keep working in a dysfunctional way. That dysfunction is what causes the set of symptoms that receive the name of PTSD. When someone loses hope of being safe, that is what really detonates and accumulates symptoms that make PTSD a lasting issue. The traumatic event itself is not what makes us sick; it’s losing control over fear that creates the instruction to the brain to operate in survival mode.
We all have the power and internal tools to stop PTSD from becoming the illness that interrupts our daily enjoyment. How? One way to start is by assessing the real threat, finding solutions to gain safety, and instructing the brain to stop the survival mode. People with PTSD have to gain awareness that survival strategies are only needed when they are at imminent risk of perishing. If they are not, they need to tell their brain that they are alive and that they can handle the present situation. If the person is at actual risk, then they have to do whatever they need to reduce that risk and put themselves safe. If they are not safe, the brain will continue to be in 'freaking out' mode.
If the symptoms continue or worsen long after the traumatic event occurred, then it becomes important to look for professional help to resolve the traumatization that is still evolving internally, the same way that a fire in the woods extends for miles. Traumatization is the internal process of feeling at risk that keeps altering the system more and more permanently unless it's resolved.
PTSD requires treatment when the symptoms increase with time and keep creating issues in the body, psyche, perception, behavior, and relationships. As you may already know, PTSD is the official name for traumatization that occurs after single events, but traumatization, once the nervous system gets dysregulated, can keep going like a plague inside one's system. Once your brain moves into becoming unbalanced and living in fear, many events can trigger one's system to keep increasing the alterations that cause hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, insomnia, mood swings, affect intolerance, sadness, anxiety, avoidance, flashbacks, etc.
Many people are resilient or have more internal and external "capital," assets, and resources to resolve the fear soon enough; they can bounce back to normal in about a year, but many don’t. For example, a person may be very scared about a surgical procedure and may suffer from PTSD if there is a complication, but if at the moment they leave the hospital and everything is fixed with the surgery, the risk goes away, the person feels confident again and the risk of developing PTSD is almost zero. That confidence is what resolves the fear that was starting to make alterations. Hope and trust in healing is a great way to resolve any PTSD symptoms too.
Regarding the type of therapy that helps those who need to seek professional help, there are some issues to keep in mind. Regular therapy or what many call "talk therapy" is not effective. A couple of decades ago, the fact that talk therapy was not helping people with PTSD was what brought more attention to the trauma phenomena. Talk therapy was being used for years with some trauma cases without eliminating symptoms. It was helping to cope with the issues, and maybe alleviate some symptoms, but the more debilitating ones keep reappearing, impairing the lives of those suffering the consequences of traumatic events or circumstances.
When neuroscience understood that trauma is an injury to the way the nervous system operates that caused dysregulation, it became clear why talk therapy could aggravate that dysregulation and worsen some symptoms. Reliving in sessions the traumatic memories, emotions, residues, and activating the past as it was happening again caused the nervous system to fall into survival mode over and over again deteriorating the nervous system further. That has been called retraumatization; it has proven that talk therapy is retraumatizing in most cases.
It’s obvious that trauma treatment includes talking, but not in the same way that it was defined before. Free association or catharsis are not seen as the cure anymore, and the therapist is more directive than the passive listening of talk therapy. Trauma therapy has adopted many tools from many modalities of different nature to develop treatment. To resolve traumatization many elements need to be consider like the body, the mind, the thought, the fear, the memories, and the schemas among others. Once cognition, perception, emotional regulation and traumatic memories have been processed and integrated into a cohesive narrative, the fears resolve and the nervous system bounces back to regular functioning, leaving the diagnosis of PTSD behind.