Exposure to trauma doesn't necessarily dictate PTSD for the victim.
Dr. Norah Feeny, professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, is studying post-traumatic stress disorder to expand on our understanding of the affliction and potentially debunk some related myths.
Dr. Norah Feeny is a professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve Univeristy in Ohio. Her laboratory focuses on the development and evaluation of cognitive behavioral treatments for anxiety and mood disorders. Much of her work is focused in the area of PTSD specifically where she has ongoing research evaluating treatments for PTSD, understanding what predicts who will benefits from such treatments, which treatments people prefer, and finding ways to recognize pediatric posttraumatic stress disorder. She earned her PhD from Bryn Mawr College.
Dr. Norah Feeny - PTSD Research, Myths and Resilience
The perception of long-term psychological harm and the need for therapy after horrific events is almost commonplace in our media. To some extent the same is true among mental health workers.
People now often assume that experiencing something traumatic automatically leads to PTSD.
In contrast though, decades of research have taught us that most people are actually resilient in the aftermath of trauma and do not need therapy. Being resilient does not necessarily mean a lack of a reaction to a traumatic event. Instead, resilience is ability to "spring back" or "recover."
After life threatening events, most individuals experience common reactions such as problems sleeping, problems concentrating, and avoidance of or heightened reactivity to trauma reminders.
For most, these reactions rapidly decrease in the months after the event or events. This is one of the remarkable findings emerging from years studying psychological reactions to traumatic events. This doesn't mean that the event does not have a dramatic impact on an individual's life; simply that it need not result in mental disorder.
This is not to deny that there are true mental health needs for some trauma survivors – there are. We need to work to reduce stigma and other barriers to effective interventions. There are great resources available and time-limited treatments that work for trauma survivors with persisting symptoms months and years after the event. A delay of receiving an effective treatment translates directly into prolonged suffering.
We just ask whether the pendulum needs to swing back to recognizing resilience and recovery as the norm after trauma exposure. This is consistent with scientific data and provides the possibility to alter how friends, family, mental health providers, communities, and public health policy experts respond to trauma survivors.