eli5: what is the impact of therapy on the mind of a person suffering from PTSD? how does it help in getting better?


eli5: what is the impact of therapy on the mind of a person suffering from PTSD? how does it help in getting better?

In: Biology

I don’t think this is something that can be explained like you’re five, except to say that when we are sick, we go see the doctor to feel better. I only have a BS in psych so I’m not qualified to tell you what therapy would be like for someone with PTSD. I do know that someone who believes they may be suffering from PTSD or something similar should seek help from a professional. That’s what they are for.

My understanding is this…

The way your brain works is it first takes in an experience in real-time. This is “The Now” and it occurs in a specific part of the brain/mind. As you move along, the experience moves from *The Now* to a different part of the brain/mind, “Memory”. In a healthy person, as you experience new things, you now have a perspective between *The Now* and *Memory.* You physically can feel the difference between what is happening in The Now and what happened in a Memory. This perspective allows you to know that the Memory isn’t occurring right now.

Sometimes, the body isn’t able to move a traumatic experience from *The Now* to *Memory*. This means that when you move along in life, you may have an experience similar to the one that was traumatic. In this case, you feel like you are whole heartedly re-experiencing the trauma as if it is happening right now. This is PTSD.

Some therapies to treat this are to help build the pathways in the brain to move the traumatic experience out of *The Now* parts of the brain into *Memory*. This will give the person the tools to deal with new experiences so they can draw upon the *Memory* instead of it feeling like they are re-experiencing it.



(Healthy) You are driving your car and you skid off and crash into a tree. You’re banged up pretty bad, breaking an arm or leg. It was a traumatic event for sure. Someone was passing on the road who helped, and you were able to get out of the situation. Your body likely shook and you were in some shock. Your body was in the process of moving this horrible experience from *The Now* into *Memory*. In the future, every time you pass that tree, you’ll certainly remember it and have a bad feeling, but that’s normal. Your brain has the perspective that this happened in the past and is not happening now. You’ve processed the trauma in a healthy manner.

(PTSD scenario) You are driving your car and you skid off and crash into a tree. You’re banged up pretty bad, breaking an arm or leg, but this time, nobody was able to help. You were trapped in the painful experience for a long time. Eventually, you were rescued and treated. Your body did not process the trauma and did not move it from *The Now* to *Memory*. Since your brain is not able to recognize that that trauma happened in the past when you pass that tree again in the future, it goes somewhat haywire as it feels like you are re-experiencing the trauma.


As said above, with some treatments like EMDR, therapists can work with a patient to recall the traumatic event (asking them to describe it, talk about it, etc). This is the literal “Trigger Warning”. When the patient is in this elevated state, the therapist has them do certain eye movement exercises. These exercises simulate the processing that was missing to help move the trauma from *The Now* to *Memory.* Over time, the patient builds up that perspective, so they can pass that tree and remember experience with perspective, instead of re-living it.

Edit: I’m not a professional, but i’ve read a few books on it. The Body Keeps the Score is excellent and has helped many people that I know and it comes highly recommended by some therapist friends of mine

As someone with PTSD, I have begun cognitive behavioural therapy. My psychologist explained it to me in the following way (pretty similar to first comment but more 5 year oldish):

There’s a blob in your brain which stores memory and there’s a blob next to it which is responsible for understanding danger and releasing fight/flight.

When you experience a traumatic event, because it triggers your fight or flight and therefore a chemical/physical reaction to danger, your brain stores the MEMORY of the danger in your danger blob rather than the memory blob.

The way that therapy then works for PTSD (cognitive behavioural therapy) is by reliving the traumatic event in first hand utmost detail. But this time correctly save it to the memory blob.

It’s essentially a way that the brain learned to cope with a perceived threat which means every time something triggers that experience it is relived. (Also explains the word trigger is v important but v overused in conversation).

Hope this helps xxxx