Safe + Sound Blog

A Story of Healing from PTSD


You’re sitting on the couch watching a scary movie. Your heart races and your palms sweat, so you look around and listen for potential danger. Your mind replays the images of what you’ve just watched.

This a typical human response to fear, and it goes away after you change the channel.

 

Imagine the movie is your real life.

The memories of the worst thing that’s ever happened to you keep replaying in your head, over and over. Your body never calms down and you never stop looking for the danger. This is a glimpse into what it’s like to live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD impacts many of the survivors, both adults and youth, that reach out to Safe+Sound Somerset for domestic violence services. PTSD symptoms can make it difficult for clients to feel safe, concentrate on work or school, advocate for themselves or their children, and/or remain calm in seemingly safe but stressful situations.

People can develop PTSD through interpersonal trauma, including physical or emotional pain caused by another person such as a family member or stranger. 80% of female survivors of stalking, rape, and physical violence by an intimate partner experience symptoms of PTSD (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010).

What does it look like when domestic violence survivors with PTSD come to us for help in finding safety, hope and healing?

It’s a mother who couldn’t sleep, avoided the kitchen because of violent memories, and had angry outbursts when their child acts out. Her middle school-aged child, who witnessed the violence, couldn’t concentrate or sit still at school. As a result, she was diagnosed with a learning disability. Like many of our clients, this mother and daughter came to us believing that the world is an unsafe place, that the violence was their fault, and with little hope for a better future.

PTSD takes so much from a person. To guide survivors towards healing, Safe+Sound Somerset offers proven, empowering PTSD treatments at no charge including Prolonged Exposure (PE) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for adults, and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) for children from 3 years old and up. With the support of a counselor either in person or remotely by video, these treatments equip survivors with skills to overcome their fear, anxiety, and stress related to their traumatic experiences and to live empowered lives.

Avoidance, like the mother scared of going into her kitchen, is a hallmark of PTSD. It results in a survivor completely changing their life to avoid traumatic reminders. Through PE therapy, clients are supported in gradually and safely doing things that they had been avoiding. During this mother’s first week of treatment, she began to overcome her fear by gradually going into the kitchen and doing enjoyable activities like cooking. She learned that the space wasn’t as dangerous as it felt. The next week, she read news stories about domestic violence and began to emotionally separate her experience from others. This new skill gives her the freedom to open her phone or turn on the news without the constant fear of being triggered.

The pandemic has had an intense impact on survivors. S+SS has seen an increase both the number of calls and the complexity of survivors’ situations. During this challenging time, all clients who completed PE no longer met criteria for PTSD, with symptoms decreasing by 71% on average! Plus, these survivors accomplished the life-changing therapy in an average of only 11 sessions – for one client, as few as seven. Depressive symptoms of this group dropped by an average of 76% as well.

So, what does healing from PTSD look like? This mother sleeps better, enjoys cooking again, opens window curtains, making the house a brighter, more enjoyable space. She feels better about herself and dresses differently. She is also better able to manage her own reactions when her child acts out, making it easier to support her middle schooler and work together.

Through her own experience healing at S+SS, she recognized her child’s trauma symptoms. As a result, this mother was able to advocate successfully by explaining to the school that her child’s behaviors were the result of witnessing DV instead of a learning disability. Sure enough, after completion of TF-CBT and healing from her own trauma, the child no longer met the diagnosis for a learning disability and began to thrive in the classroom.

By confronting their trauma and working towards healing using proven trauma treatment in S+SS’s supportive environment, these survivors experienced relief from PTSD symptoms. With their new senses of accomplishment and self-esteem, this mother and child are one example of the many survivors who regained their hope for the future at Safe+Sound Somerset through healing from the trauma of domestic abuse.

If you or someone or someone you know may be experiencing domestic violence or trauma related to current or previous domestic abuse, call or text our confidential 24/7 hotline at 866-685-1122. Trained DV Advocates are available to answer questions and make connections to help.