Could a car accident add more problems to my posttraumatic stress disorder?

I have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder due to my military experiences. Not a year ago, I had a car accident. Could this experience add more problems?

Eric Koll
Eric Koll
Gold standard trauma therapy for adult Nerds, Geeks, Weirdos, and Misfits

The short answer is yes ,with a "maybe" tagged on the end. Let me explain.  First off, thank you for serving our country. The vast majority of the population will never understand the sorts of experiences that military members have encountered. And we know that veterans suffer from PTSD at higher percentages than civilians. We also know that motor vehicle accidents are the most common cause of PTSD. My friend, you've been struggling, it seems. 

So it can be helpful to think of PTSD symptoms like a wave, or a series of waves. Sometimes the waves are larger and last for longer, and sometimes they're easier to manage. 

One of the most common ways for PTSD waves to be more challenging is due to something we call "avoidance." We avoid both internal things (thinking about the trauma, avoiding unpleasant emotions, etc...) but also external reminders (perhaps driving in a car, being in crowds, being around loud noises, people standing behind you, etc...). And the more we push that stuff away, the longer those waves stick around. 

Therefore trauma therapy usually involves confronting that avoidance in safe and protected ways to try to reteach your brain that even through something might feel upsetting, it doesn't mean that you're actually in danger. Let me give you an example. Lets say you avoid being in a crowd. Your PTSD wants to convince you that ALL crowds are dangerous. And, between you and me, we both know that there are some crowds that are ABSOLUTELY dangerous. If you're in a biker bar where people are smoking meth and throwing knives at dartboards...that's probably a pretty dangerous place to be. But maybe you don't hang out in biker bars. Maybe you're just trying to pick up your milk and eggs at the grocery store when your crowd-avoidance kicks in. Well those two environments are very different. COULD something dangerous happen in the grocery store? Yes. Is it LIKELY that you're in danger? Probably not. 

And so if you've worked through the PTSD from the military but then go through a car accident, it might be that some of those old avoidant patterns are popping back up. The good news, however, is that there are several different options (through the VA, Vet Center, or private counseling) that can help. Look for what's called an Evidence-Based Approach. These are things like Cognitive Processing Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Written Exposure Therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Your counselor can help you decide which might be the best approach for you. 

PTSD is very treatable. You don't have to suffer. Reach out to a qualified therapist. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

View 6 other answers

More Answers