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PTSD Symptoms May get Worse Before Getting Better When Starting Therapy

You’ve been experiencing symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, avoiding places that remind you of what happened, feeling stressed and anxious, having trouble sleeping, having flashbacks, feeling distrustful, and like the world isn’t a very safe place. After weeks (or maybe months) of trying to fix your life on your own, you made the very scary decision to start therapy. Then, instead of feeling better and noting a decrease in symptoms, you’re feeling more anxious and having increased difficulty coping with life. Your symptoms are actually worse! Don’t panic, this isn’t exactly an unexpected event. In fact, it might be a sign that your therapy is advancing, so don’t fire your therapist yet!

Why Would My Symptoms Get Worse?

When you’re going to therapy for PTSD or CPTSD, you will often discuss the events from your past that traumatized you. Therapy is designed to bring up your emotions, thoughts, and memories which can be painful and uncomfortable. This can actually cause you to experience an increase in symptoms of anxiety, crying spells, insomnia, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and the like. Some symptoms may even be your way of coping with what happened to you and the feelings you’re experiencing now.

What to Do to Help Your Therapy Progress

Now that we’ve established that it’s not uncommon for your symptoms to get worse once you start therapy, what can you do to help yourself?

  • First off, acknowledge what is happening and remind yourself that this is normal. Reassure yourself that it will get better.

  • Conquer this at your own speed. If it seems like the therapist is pushing you to go too fast, let them know. They should be open to adjusting their approach. If not, then you can consider finding a new therapist that better suits your needs. But give it an honest try before switching therapists. Avoiding your feelings and memories will only prolong your pain in the long run.

  • Learn to self-soothe. And this will be individual to you. Maybe a cup of warm tea during therapy. Or wearing your soft slippers to your sessions. Maybe take a walk or meditate afterward, read a book, or go to the bakery next door and get yourself a pastry. Try different things and use what works for you.

  • Communicate your needs to your therapist. Make sure you tell them what you’re feeling and about your experience. Is there something that your therapist is doing or saying that is making you uncomfortable? Or conversely, is there something they can do that will help you to feel more comfortable or safer? It’s very important that you communicate openly with your therapist.

  • Ask your therapist for ways to better cope with your emotions, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts. There are many different skills that you can learn and I’m sure your therapist would be happy to teach you some.

  • Take a break if you need it! Although you don’t want to ignore what happened to you or live as if it didn’t happen, it is absolutely OK to step away from it occasionally and take a break. In order to heal, you do not have to spend every minute of every day focusing on your trauma and your feelings. Watch a movie. Go out with friends. Take a nap. Taking a brief break may even help you to better process your feelings better.

  • Try not to get afraid or hopeless if your symptoms get worse. Remember that this can be a sign that you’re making progress.

Closing Thoughts

So having an increase in the intensity of your symptoms after starting therapy can be considered a normal part of treatment and isn’t anything to worry about. Talk with your therapist to learn better ways of coping and to make your therapy work better for you. If you’re not currently in therapy, but would like to talk more about trauma treatment, please follow the link. I’d love to hear from you!


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