Why isn’t PTSD Discussed in Domestic Violence Programs?

Reader’s Question

Why isn’t post traumatic stress disorder EVER brought up or discussed? Getting out of a battered relationship and THINKING you are doing great doesn’t mean you are NOT scarred and damaged. There are symptoms that can linger on for years (mine was 25 yrs) and the victim is not being educated by counselors that they were damaged psychologically because they are UNAWARE of the lingering symptoms to warn them. No one told me that jumping and screaming when someone comes up behind you was something to address — or always having to face the door was not normal. I went to the best doctor in Cleveland that worked with Dr. Lenore Walker and read all of Walker’s books. What does the victim do NOW to correct what was never explained — that you NEVER get over the physical and psychological damage that was done?

Psychologist’s Reply

Every victim of abuse experiences some if not multiple symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As you describe, these symptoms linger many years…some for a lifetime. Everyone knows this but it’s rarely bought up, maybe for a couple of reasons. A lot of the treatment and safety programs associated with spousal abuse are social or agency-based programs. They often use treatment strategies that incorporate and acknowledge PTSD symptoms without naming it as such. The reason may be that PTSD is a psychiatric diagnosis that focuses on the symptoms and treatment rather than the social causes. Programs in the community often focus on nonpsychiatric descriptions such as spousal abuse, domestic violence shelters, drug abuse recovery, AA, etc. While depression is well-known to be associated with all these issues, “Depression” is never placed in the description of a social or community program for example.

The diagnosis and treatment of PTSD requires specific professional licenses and training. Community-based programs that focus on PTSD treatment must do so under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional. This is why the US Veteran’s Administration can provide “PTSD groups” for combat vets as these programs are under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional.

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This situation doesn’t mean the PTSD symptoms can’t be corrected. PTSD symptoms are partially based on the brain’s Emotional Memory system. During our period of abuse, the brain collects thousands of memories that contain details of our abusive experiences and the feelings (horror, terror, pain, etc.) made at that time. In what we call “traumatic recollection”, any similar experience in the future will recall the Emotional Memory of the abuse, forcing us to relive the event in detail and feeling. I’ve written an article on this topic that’s available on this website (Emotional Memory). It offers research-based techniques we can use every day to manage and control our PTSD memories. Once we realize how the brain works, it’s easier to develop strategies to cope with our memories of abuse as well as our current avoidant behaviors such as needing to face the door. For additional help in this area, you can consult with psychologists who specialize in PTSD treatment.

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