Using story instead of pills to heal PTSD

PTSD and the DSM-V

The DSM-V (the 5th and current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was published in May 2013. It introduced many important changes to 2000's DSM-IV-TR, including a long-overdue categorical shift that finally removed PTSD (Post-Traumautic Stress Disorder) from the list of anxiety disorders.

For the first time, PTSD is being recognized as a trauma disorder, the direct consequence of exposure to an external traumatic event. Mental health activists hope that PTSD sufferers will in turn be subject to less stigmatization, as the shift finally liberates PTSD from the realm of inherent mental illness, and acknowledges its origins in an etiological event--the traumatic stressor.

Should PTSD be Renamed PTSS?

One more change that still needs (ethically) to be made is the renaming of PTSD to PTSS, replacing “disorder” with “syndrome.” Not only does “disorder” have a more negative connotation, but it fails to account for PTSD's spectrum of symptoms, any or all of which sufferers may experience--rendering the one-size-fits-all approach both futile and inaccurate.

The Psychology behind PTSD

In Jungian terms, PTSD affects the ego, or that part of the person we call the Self. The ego is the center of consciousness; it orients us in time and space; and the ego wants to survive as long as possible with as little pain as possible. When confronted with pain, the ego defends itself with the only weapons it has: projection, idealization, and denial. All three of these defense mechanisms have as their corollary suppression and repression. Because the psyche is a closed system, repressed energy necessarily leaks out in other forms: anxiety and depression, for example. 


No one "cure" has ever worked for every PTSD sufferer, but there are many suggestions for helping individuals learn to cope with high-level stress. The first is practicing empathic presence. Empathic presence occurs when the PTSD-afflicted individual meets with a qualified therapist who simply listens to the individual's story, over and over again … until such time as the story begins to lose its power. At that point, the story stops “owning” the individual.

There are many free or low-cost resources for people with PTSD (click here for a list of Austin’s veteran services, and here for a unique civilian service), but a kind friend with a good ear can also go a long way toward alleviating said suffering. To be an empathic presence for someone you know, practice being a “container” for story, where narratives may be received and treated as sacred. Friends and family members, even more so than therapists, are good about seeing the human being and not just his/her symptoms.

PTSD and Cider Spoon

When asked what war was like, a Vietnam veteran recently replied:
“War is 99% boring and 1% sheer terror.”

PTSD is commonly associated with veterans, but many non-veterans suffer from PTSD. Rape victims, abuse victims, and those who have lived through car accidents are just a few more examples of afflicted sub-groups. While there are more PTSD services than ever before, the paradigm of trauma remains the same. Our vets and others are dealing with the same problems as 40 years ago, and still not feeling heard.

At Cider Spoon, my job is to listen to your story. No judgment, and no “therapy” in the licensed sense … but helping you make sense of your life all the same, through healing narratives.