Can Sharing Traumatic Experiences Help Prevent Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly known as the condition many soldiers experience after returning from combat, but anyone can be susceptible to PTSD and it has been suggested that up to 82% of children will face a traumatic event before adulthood. PTSD’s onset can occur after a person directly experiences or witnesses a traumatic event but not everyone will develop PTSD after suffering a traumatic event. A recent study suggests that children who are willing to face their painful thoughts and memories are less likely to develop PTSD symptoms a year later. (Shenk 2014) This means that children who were willing to share and be open about their past traumatic experiences are less likely to develop PTSD symptoms than children who avoided or repressed their traumatic experiences.

In the experiment from Pennsylvania State University, University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, children who had faced a traumatic event were tested for three variables that are believed to be the deciding factors for whether a child will develop PTSD after trauma. These three variables were time between heartbeats; the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone; and how a questionnaire regarding openness with trauma was answered. The children were then retested a year later and compared to a control group that had not experienced trauma in their lives. The researchers’ most significant finding was that when children were most open about their traumatic experiences on the survey, they had decreased instances of PTSD developing a year later. These findings may be applicable to adults as well and if so, then it would be possible to decrease the presence of PTSD by promoting openness and sharing traumatic experiences.

The Boulder Institute of Psychotherapy and Research welcomes patients who wish to speak about a traumatic event, have trouble coping with trauma or believe their loved ones are at risk for PTSD.


By: Kevin Jang

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