Setting Goals for PTSD Recovery Success

November 1, 2017 Tia Hollowood

Setting goals for PTSD recovery can be slowed by unrealistic expectations and the resulting frustrations. Learn a way to set realistic goals for your recovery.

Setting goals for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery can be difficult, in part because PTSD impacts every aspect of daily living, every day. When seeking help for recovery, it is understandable to want to feel better as quickly as possible in order to put the worst behind you and move on. Sometimes it can be difficult to notice what progress is being made when you are still experiencing the symptoms of PTSD daily. This is where understanding your PTSD diagnosis as well as any coexisting conditions and setting goals for PTSD recovery can help you feel successful.

Consider Coexisting Conditions in Setting Goals for PTSD Recovery

PTSD is diagnosed using a set of criteria specifically tied to the impacts of having experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. However, PTSD commonly occurs with other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. In fact, many individuals with PTSD have two or more other psychiatric diagnoses. This is of particular importance when considering the types of treatment and treatment expectations regarding what will be most effective.

Recovery takes time. It is depressing to meet with repeated failures in therapies, medications, and the search for the just-right counselor. In the beginning, it's hard to understand what is happening, or what to expect. By understanding and treating all coexisting conditions at the same time, we can set goals designed to meet all of our needs.

How to Reduce Frustration When Setting Goals for PTSD

When I began therapy, I made slow progress in working through my trauma. I was also at the height of my panic attacks, depression, all-or-nothing thinking and self-loathing. In my mind, nothing was ever going to work, I was a failure, and everything was happening because I was too weak to force myself into wellness.

The Challenge That Helped Me Set Goals for PTSD Recovery

My first attempts with therapy were less than productive. I did not know what I needed and to be fair, my counselor wasn't a mind reader. Later in treatment, I was challenged to make a list of the thoughts, behaviors, and interactions that I would consider to be harmful or unpleasant. Then, I was asked to order the list from the easiest to improve on to those that were the hardest.

I still have that list:

  • Needing to do everything correctly, no mistakes
  • Yelling at my husband when grumpy
  • Spending too much
  • Having to clean and organize everything in each room of the house before bed
  • Continually disagreeing with the same coworker and going home upset
  • Panic attacks at work
  • Freaking out when something isn't perfect or as expected
  • Pulling my hair
  • Laugh at things that are funny
  • Stop constantly thinking about death
  • Less nightmares
  • Not having to check the door locks repeatedly

It wasn't a complete list, and I did not have the items ordered from easiest to most difficult. What I did finally have was a group of smaller, more reasonable expectations for myself. Most of these ended up broken down even further.

Looking at the list now, I can see the pieces that connected to my trauma, as well as those tied to depression, anxiety, all-or-nothing thinking and self-loathing. By taking these enormous feelings of fear, despair, and self-hatred and breaking them up into bite-size pieces, I began to see changes in myself and grew encouraged with my progress.

Healing takes time. If you're feeling as if you're in a rut and not making progress, try looking for some small victories, talk to someone, and be kind to yourself. Please let me know your thoughts and experiences with the recovery progress, and how you manage the times when you feel as though you're stuck in place.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2016, February 2). Retrieved October 28, 2017

Brady, K. T., Killeen, T. K., Brewerton, T., & Lucerini, S. (2000, April 30). Comorbidity of Psychiatric Disorders and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved October 28, 2017

APA Reference
Hollowood, T. (2017, November 1). Setting Goals for PTSD Recovery Success, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Tia Hollowood

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November, 3 2017 at 1:29 pm

The first therapist I saw and told of the intrusive thoughts and flashbacks from an abusive relationship in the past told me: "well, he can only affect you as much as you choose to let him" and was quite dismissive. So seeing a counsellor is ahrd for me and I stopped trying after that. I've found learning about neuroplasticity and cbt helpful. I've got into the routine of writing out my thought process' and feelings every time I feel slightly irritated or triggered. This has cleared up a lot. And like writing the list did for you. It's helped me clear up a lot of my thought process' and behaviour related to the trauma. I have some friends I can talk to at times. But seeing a councellor seems too much for me. Personal writing has caused episodes to diminish to happenning every 1 to 3 months now. As opposed to constantly. The hardest part is being hard on myself. When I ge triggered, thinking I shouldn't be triggered, expecting myself to already be past it and almost being mad at my mind and body for reacting that way, I then have to change my focus to 'this anxiety response is simply showing me where I need to heal. Not punishing or attacking me." It's a process and reading this blog reminded me I need to keep seeing healing as a process, not rush myself to be better already. Thank you. Im happy knowing you are out there, writing about it and helping others. Gives me hope.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 7 2017 at 4:47 am

Felicia, thanks for taking the time to share your story. I'm so glad to hear that writing is a positive outlet for you.
As for counselors, it sounds like your first one was pretty insensitive. The healing journey with PTSD is up and down and honestly I am in recovery but "completely cured" is never going to be how I view my PTSD. I'm okay with that.
If you ever find that you need a counselor again, ask some questions before scheduling an appointment. You could even explain your past experience and make it clear you're looking for someone more compassionate. You deserve to be respected. T

Alexander Crawford
November, 3 2017 at 4:29 am

This is a really insightful article. I am wishing you the best.

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