Brain Change and PTSD: Proof Recovery is Possible

January 30, 2013 Michele Rosenthal

Trauma impacts the brain, makes changes in the brain, that lead to development of PTSD. Can new positive experiences change then brain? Find out.

In regard to PTSD, I've heard so many times - from both survivors and clinicians - once you're broken you can't be fixed (Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain). Really? I find that hard to believe.

And now, there's proof that's all a bunch of baloney.

Your Brain Can Change and Recover From PTSD

In my own trauma recovery, I got to a day that things seemed so dire and destined never to change that I almost gave up. And then a little voice inside me said, Go dance. Ridiculous, right? Not really. Dancing made me feel free, transcendent, joyful and very in the present moment.

I listened to that little voice and signed up for dance classes every day of the week. Seven straight days of every week of every month, I danced every day for four months. I stopped working on my PTSD recovery and just chased after the good feelings that dance brought me.

I didn't know it, but I was doing something years ago that science today proves works: I was creating positive experiences for myself that trained my brain to rewire. And you know what? It was fun! Not only that, all of those good feelings became addictive. I couldn't get enough.

Trauma impacts the brain, makes changes in the brain, that lead to development of PTSD. Can new positive experiences change then brain? Find out.In addition to shocking me with the fact that I could actually feel joy (I had long suspected that would never be possible for me) all of that good feeling translated into a new strength and courage that allowed me to go back into the work of PTSD healing. This time, I finally and completely got the job done.

A few years after my PTSD recovery, I went to the annual trauma conference in Boston. The focus of the conference was heavily in the direction of the emerging neuroscience research. A lot of it proved how with MRIs and fMRIs we can actually see how PTSD impacts and changes the brain. Which got me to thinking....

If trauma impacts the brain in such a way that we develop PTSD, meaning the experience of trauma causes the brain to change, then can't a subsequent experience also cause the brain to change? Was that, in fact, what I had done with all those positive hours of dance experience? Maybe. I cornered a neuroscientist who had presented at the conference and asked him point blank:

If neurological PTSD symptoms come about in response to a powerful psychological experience, is it possible to reverse those neurological changes by engaging in an equally powerful opposite experience?

“You mean, instead of experiencing trauma, experiencing a powerful bliss?” David asked. I nodded. “Yes.”

David didn’t even hesitate: “Yes. Definitely. If you could induce an equally powerful inverse experience, it would impact the brain and cause neurological changes.”

Huh. What do you think about that? A scientist, someone hardcore and a stickler for proof, unequivocally said that the brain can change. In fact, what I came to learn later is that not only can the brain change, it is hardwired to change. You are genetically built for your brain to change again and again and again until the end of your life.

Now, doesn't all that just make you begin to think about recovery in a whole new way? You are perfectly fine. Your neuronal pathways and activity just needs to be changed. Work? Of course. Doable? Eminently.

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity. Connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her website,

APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2013, January 30). Brain Change and PTSD: Proof Recovery is Possible, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

January, 16 2018 at 1:32 am

Yes, 1000%, a person can heal from frame. I am living proof. I have sought and followed a treatment path. The Hoffman process, and then some counselling. AND meditating your progresses, in such a way that you essentially rewire your brain. BUT, there most important part is your own motivation. So to speak about the physical changes in the brain: your old and practiced PTSD pattern, you have wired it into your brain with many many neural connections. And with today's MRIs we can actually see these connections. Over time ptsd wires your brain into you living life through those ptsd connections. An those cannectionsbecome as thick as mental rope. The new way of thinking comes from establishing a new and positive way the make, think, live, and heal though these new neural connections. The brain thoughts take the path of least resistance. Your duty to cursed is to establish a positive self compassionate way of thinking, and then meditating your new neural connections until the new healed connections become stronger and thicker, until the new positive way of thinking becomes the compassionate, loving, content, happily excited optimistic positive norm. My first realization is acceptance the (ptsd) is a normal reaction, to an abnormal situation. Then healing, as the first writer mentions.. her healing path was dance, but whatever, it is living, persueing positivity. The goal is to get to a positive mental plane, and work hard at forgiving, self acceptance, self companion, self love, rewiring those neural connections and rewiring your brain with positivity. I meditated my new novel connections, till they became the new positive and loving compassionate me that I am today. I can't even go back to where I once was. I physically-mentally can't get back there, from here. I've built so many new positive connection, that I can't get there from here. Perhaps a realization the 1000% recover is 1000% possible is definitively achievable. Live your resolutions! Build your new life with a new way of thinking. Remember/realize that with positivity in you mind ... thoughts and personal contentment not only survive, but thrive !!! Negativity... things got there to die, mentally and physically !!! Second step, realizing that not only can you heal !!! But you can now mentally be a much stronger person, because you have new strongertools to deal with trauma, that your average person just has no clue how to navigate to mental peace. And the best part, you can apply this knowledge to all aspects of your life. And see ptsd effects on others with you new grown compassion. So, the first writer found the first step through dance, but make no mistake, while dancing in the glow of positivity... that they were building, rewiring in new self loving, self forgiving new stronger positive neural pathways to happiness. As mentioned above, the brain is made to change, and rewire new knowledge and new ways of thinking, ie: learning. SOOOO believe! Take the first step, and run down the path to healing as fast as you can ! You literally don't have to wait another second! Just reading this has enabled, established new neural connections and opened doors to the new, positive loving self compasionate YOU !!! Iknow you felt that spark... follow it with commitments ... starting right NOW ♡

August, 25 2017 at 11:52 am

I wasn't going to say anything. So tired... Today had a real hard time. Went on date with man for first time in long time. He seems so nice. Still I got triggered last night. Could hardly talk to him today at our coffee date. I was so embarrassed... I couldn't believe how shy and awkward I was. Trying to be compassionate with myself. I understand I got triggered. I'm so glad I found this site because I got real down wondering if I will ever be free of my past and the fear.
My thing is horses and horse back riding. I will try dancing. That sounds lovely. Thank you!

Ruth Fuller
July, 21 2017 at 5:15 am

Thank you for the post, it really helped. I've had PTSD for five years that began as so extreme I was sectioned to prevent me from killing myself rather than bare another second of it but I have been improving fairly steadily over the years, just not enough that I feel any real joy even in the things I used to love. Sometimes its hard to hold on to hope as something real and tangible enough to be worth all the work of pushing through. Your post helped. Arses to doomed, I'm bloody well not doing it and if I can get this far from where I was then I can make it to happy good feelings too.

June, 27 2017 at 4:26 pm

I totally agree though it's a long process for me. Running is my thing

October, 13 2015 at 4:43 pm

Dr Rick Hanson has championed methods to increase brain health and happiness through regular exercises in neuroplasticity, ie making the time to take in the good in daily life:

August, 24 2015 at 7:28 pm

Nice article.

June, 29 2015 at 2:28 pm

Hi, I often tell my therapist I wish I could talk to someone who has gone through this, who knows how crazy you feel at times, who wishes like I do to never be triggered and scared again, to sleep an entire night, to trust someone again, to find joy in life...however big or small that maybe. Someone who knows how you want to be present but detaching has been such a way of life its second nature like breathing. Today is a very hard day...I want to give up on the recovery work. I want to rest...

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Elaine Fourie
July, 9 2017 at 3:14 am

You speak right into my heart and soul Cindy. I hope that together we find a way to experience joy and spontaneous happiness again.

Adrienne Hay
June, 25 2015 at 4:39 am

Hello.This is an amazing post thankyou.I live in the UK and have suffered with complex ptsd for 18months now after verbal abuse and mistreatment via my sister.Also now a separation after domestic abuse and affairs by my husband.I feel like this is it now Thisbis who I am and almist like there a little me screaming up and saying "im still here dont worry". Except that person,the old me is so small now that shes gone.
But this has helped me to have hope.Its very positive.Once I have secured my hoise and finances for my daughter now hes left I will take head and start a different approach along with my psychology treatment.Thankyou

June, 18 2015 at 9:35 pm

I know this conversation happened two years ago, but I only just found it. My trauma happened over a period of ten years and peaked in 1995. After 20 years I am a new and in many ways a much better person. What does bother me, is that I seem to be able to see events unfolding while most people around me are oblivious. I do think my brain has changed. I seem to be able observe people's behavior and understand their motivation, especially in people saying and doing hurtful things. Does any one else feel this way?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
June, 24 2015 at 1:38 pm

@Gabriel, very insightful observation. Trauma heightens your intuition, among other things, so you may very well notice the kinds of changes you describe. For a broader discussion and more feedback you may want to post your question in the (free) Heal My PTSD forum:

October, 9 2014 at 2:59 pm

I know this is an old thread, but hopefully someone will see this. Of those of you who have experienced healing, how many of you have gone though a terrible time and relapsed? If this has happened, how long before you were able to pull yourself back together?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
October, 22 2014 at 2:11 pm

Hi, Jaqueline -- This is a great question to post in the Heal My PTSd forum that I moderate: Please join us there for a full discussion. :)

Christine Cissy White
May, 27 2014 at 9:39 am

This is so hopeful Michele!
Someone on my facebook page sent me this and I read it not realizing at first it was written by you. You coached me for a while and were wonderful. Thank you.
Also, to any readers, that same Trauma Conference in Boston is happening later this week.
It's SO ENCOURAGING to hear some positive news about PTSD. The picture isn't quite as rosy, YET, for complex PTSD but I have a feeling that will change as well.
If our families or origin are also the source of our trauma, it can stay complicated for a long time. But it's not hopeless.

Alison Taylor
May, 27 2014 at 7:47 am

I am in that place where i feel i am always going to be unwell. I try to move on but cant.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 27 2014 at 8:46 pm

Always being unwell? Don't believe it for one second. Look up Dr Caroline Leaf. Do her
21 day detox. It will change your life.

Dawn Keenan
May, 27 2014 at 6:18 am

This is a very powerful article and sheds light on what daily piano playing and especially swimming has done for me over the past 2 1/2 years. Piano has always been my savior throughout a life full of traumatic events. However, it is just in the last several months that I was diagnosed with PTSD. Coincidentally, today marks the beginning of the 7th week of daily 2 hour swimming sessions which are a time for me of oasis, solace, union with God, and well needed exercise. I absolutely believe that the time spent in the pool is re-wiring my brain creating new grooves and new patterns of thinking and behavior. Well done.

S.M. Mehtala
July, 10 2013 at 3:12 am

Dance worked amazingly for me. I started at home, before taking dance lessons by moving to music, experimenting with different ways of taking up space and interpreting the music through physical movements. I had a sense that it was doing me good although it was more than a year before I was able to see a major difference in my daily wellbeing. It started small, in mere moments, and now I can have entire days of feeling comfortable. I am no longer living on my last nerve - I have spares! Through dance and movement, I was also able to work around old injuries, relearn how to breathe freely, and - surprise myself with a love for jazz.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
July, 14 2013 at 10:43 am

@S.M. -- What a cool and individual way of adapting a technique to your specific process. I admire your determination and creativity. Here's to dancing ourselves into a better daily experience, and surprising ourselves along the way!

June, 11 2013 at 12:54 am

I am happy I found this article. I am living with PTSD, and I just had an MRI of my brain. I am only 38 years old and there were lesions found on my brain. Do you think that the thoughts and feelings associated with PTSD can cause physical damage to the brain? Without sounding like a holistic nut, I believe the brain is a VERY powerful thing, and that our thoughts (in my case, on a constant movie reel of negativity) can possibly produce damage physically. Any thoughts on this?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
June, 15 2013 at 12:22 pm

@Kim - Welcome to the blog! I'm so glad you find the information useful, and I hope it lets you feel less alone. Yes, absolutely, what/how we think impacts the structure of our brain. Check out THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF, by Norman Doidge, for a great overview in how this works -- and how it can possibly be reversed.

chris in sc
June, 2 2013 at 12:27 am

New here- reading all of your articles and hoping that something will resonate. Was Dx'd in childhood w/PTSD and MDD and now again since my son completed suicide back in Sept. As I never worked through the childhood stuff, this has just all felt like a life-long thing. I am now 53 and I need to stay alive. I have another son that is an Iraqi Vet. He has PTSD and has moved in with me. We are both trying hard to make something work. I guess after a lifetime of living this way, it feels like it will never be able to be changed. Do you really think it can?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
June, 4 2013 at 3:50 pm

@Chris -- Yes, change is often possible! In addition to the posts here, which offer many tips for and proof of change, have you discovered my radio show? The free archives are full of experts and survivors talking candidly about how to heal:

May, 28 2013 at 10:44 am

This is a really good point. I remember one time the neuroanatomy professor I worked for in college pointed out that every process that goes on in the brain is due to a physical change. We can't learn a new phone number without a tiny little change to our brain's structure. I think people with PTSD can get disheartened by the idea that the condition "changes the brain" without realizing that there's a difference between this and irreversible brain damage. It's a dynamic organ, it wouldn't make sense scientifically speaking for PTSD not to change the brain and still have any effect.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
May, 29 2013 at 7:08 am

@Frank -- YES! I think (and I was guilty of this) that so often with PTSD we become so discouraged that we believe who we've become is all we'll ever be. But if the brain is mutable it is always so and while some changes cannot be reversed new changes are certainly always possible. And so, there's always hope.

February, 27 2013 at 1:57 pm

Count me in! I had severe PTSD from both varied childhood abuse and a horrendous attack as a teenager. I thought I was damaged for life; for a while I just wanted it all to be over... I had no hope. However, through years of therapy, as well as finding purpose and happiness -- I can proudly say that almost all symptoms are years behind me. I am now one of the happiest people I know. I feel utterly blessed and love where my life is. It truly balanced the years of heartache and tourment...and then some. Now, I have a counseling degree and am working on a PhD in Psychology -- striving to help others find the light as well.
There is hope!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
February, 27 2013 at 2:46 pm

@Mistinicole -- THANK YOU for sharing your story. I love to hear about successes in PTSD recovery!! Congratulations on turning your life around and also on turning yourself into such a meaningful healing light for others. Beautiful...

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

July, 10 2013 at 3:25 am

That's great congratulation. I continued to struggled with PTSD for more than 15 years. I tried everything. My counselor told me that I need to make the change. But I really don't know what else to do. I wish you well on your career.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
July, 14 2013 at 10:42 am

@Wanda - Reaching complete recovery required me to use ten different treatment modalities over the course of several years. The annoying thing about PTSD is there isn't any specific treatment program; we're all so individual. When I didn't know what else to do I tried something new. Often that moved me forward in ways I didn't expect. For ideas about new modalities check out this page: Also, for advances in ideas for treatment listen to the archives of my radio show on which I interview a slew of professionals seeing positive results in their clients: The possibility for success always exists; please stay on the path, I want you to feel better!

Are You Sensitizing Your Amygdala? | Trauma! A PTSD Blog
February, 7 2013 at 12:02 pm

[...] = 'wpp-261'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};Last week I wrote about how possible it is for the brain to change after trauma. This week I want to share with you one of the ways you can do that. It’s all about creating [...]

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February, 6 2013 at 12:59 pm

[...] Brain Change and PTSD: Proof Recovery is Possible [...]

January, 31 2013 at 8:19 pm

I totally agree as I am going through it right now. Finally, I am there & loving life. It helps when you clean out your closest of "friends" and "family" who do not support you. Only you can help you if you really want it and I want it.

Connie Walcott
January, 31 2013 at 9:49 am

I have experienced the exact same process and results, but my process has taken place through my passion for crafting, painting, journaling and learning to build websites.
I have done a lot of my PTSD work through my artwork, and the end result came as a quiet surprise! I have found peace of mind, and also; the symptoms of PTSD have been nearly eliminated. Not fully gone yet; but I believe that my brain is fully engaged in the completion of my healing.
I highly recommend Dr. Caroline Leaf for more information about this subject. Her work has had great impact on my understanding of the power of our brains.
My life is fast becoming a peaceful harbor, and that is a change worth celebrating!
I agree that healing really can be accomplished. You ask great questions, and this is a great article for bringing clarity to this issue.
Nicely done, Michele.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
February, 1 2013 at 6:58 pm

@Connie -- Congratulations! And thanks for sharing your story, it's so fantastic to hear that success is possible. Wow, having your life become a peaceful harbor is such a delicious reward. Enjoy it!!

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