Counseling Therapy And PTSD

By Nadia Khan

Updated April 15, 2019

Reviewer Melinda Santa


As described by the American Phycological Association (APA), Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.

According to the National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, going through trauma is not rare.

About 6 of every ten men (or 60%) and 5 of every ten women (or 50%) experience at least one trauma in their lives. Because going through trauma is, unfortunately, a common life circumstance, PTSD can happen to anyone at any time.

Although every case is different, Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs as an adverse reaction to some kind of shocking, physically threatening experience. Some people even develop a special type of PTSD called Complex PTSD after being exposed to trauma repeatedly.

For example, children who are sexually abused as children and go on to be raped or physically assaulted as adults might develop complex PTSD. Because it is especially prevalent among war veterans, many people don't realize that you don't have to have served in the military to develop PTSD or for counseling therapy and PTSD to be an option.

How PTSD presents itself varies from person to person, but common symptoms include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks of the event, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares.
  • Emotional problems and avoidance of people, places, or things that might bring up the trauma.
  • Heightened nervousness and hypervigilance (feeling as if you are always on edge.)
  • Irritability, trouble concentrating, racing thoughts, or difficulty sleeping.
  • Moods swings and/or feelings of fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame.
  • Reckless or destructive behavior.
  • Detachment from others and/or inability to feel positive emotions.

One interesting thing about PTSD that few people realize is that symptoms don't necessarily show up right away. Because our brains are unique and process things differently, for some, it may take years for the troubling effects of PTSD to surface.

PTSD doesn't always show up alone either. The disorder is often also associated with other mental health issues such as depression or insomnia. The hopeful news in all of this is that PTSD is indeed treatable through counseling therapy.

How Counseling Therapy Can Help Those with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder often comes loaded with feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. Sufferers are usually reluctant to open up to others about their experiences even when seeking specialist help. But PTSD isn't something you can just 'get over.' Counseling therapy and PTSD go hand-in-hand.

The primary treatments for PTSD are psychotherapy and medication or a combination of the two. Regarding proven efficacy when it comes to research, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are effective approaches to deal with PTSD. Regardless of the treatment option you chose, it is crucial that PTSD is treated by an experienced mental health professional.

Counseling Therapy And PTSD: CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps to modify distorted emotions, behaviors, and thought. Of all the different types of psychotherapies that exist, CBT has been found the most effective short and long term treatment for PTSD.


Unlike some other forms of talk therapy, which often spend much time analyzing the events that caused a mental health issue and the feelings surrounding it, cognitive behavioral therapy tends to focus on developing effective strategies to help the client regain control over his/ her life. CBT treatments traditionally occur over 12 to 16 weeks.

One way this is accomplished is to methodically break down the causes of the client's emotions and helping him/ her to fully understand that experiencing the trauma was not their fault and that there is no need to feel guilt or shame regarding those events.

Additionally, techniques are taught to evaluate his/ her own thoughts and feelings as they occur and perhaps replacing those that lead down unproductive paths with more positive ones. This part of CBT, cognitive restructuring, can reduce the anxiety and depression associated with traumatic events.


Many people with PTSD tend to avoid situations, activities, and thoughts that can remind them of a dangerous or fearful life event, preventing them from living their lives to the fullest extent possible. While this can be a way to manage attacks over the short term, it need not be a lifelong burden.

Exposure therapy, or repeatedly discussing a traumatic event with a mental health professional can gradually decrease the intensity of the feelings associated with it and make them seem less overwhelming. The method utilized in exposure therapy is called Gradual Exposure. This is, of course, not easy to begin with, but offers the surest road to eventual recovery.

Counseling Therapy And PTSD: EMDR

EMDR Therapy is an 8-phase treatment that helps those suffering from PTSD process traumatic events and resolves lingering emotional, mental, and bodily distress connected to said trauma. This PTSD treatment is even useful for those who have experienced trauma that happened long before they were able to verbalize/truly understand what was happening. EMDR is thought to be especially useful for those who struggle to talk about their traumatic experiences.

During EMDR therapy, the patient relives triggering experiences while the therapist directs attention using eye movements. The eye movements mimic the processing response our brains goes through during REM sleep and allows the client is undergoing EMDR therapy to be exposed to you to the traumatic memories or thoughts without having a strong psychological reaction. Over time, the trauma is processed, and the impact that the memories or thoughts once had lessens.

The benefits of EMDR include:

  • Reduction/elimination of panic attacks, disturbing memories, and stress.
  • Ridding of phobias and avoidance of certain people, places, and things.
  • A decrease in negative emotions especially with things that were once considered triggers
  • Help with losing weight especially when obesity is related to childhood trauma or anxious-eating disorders.
  • Effective in treating some eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.


Finding Specialist Help Online

Qualified mental health counselors tend to specialize in a certain part of their wider field, with anxiety issues (including the treatment of PTSD) being one of these. This allows them to understand these conditions and their underlying causes more fully and provide better advice to their patients.

While there are a large number of therapists out there, finding one that can effectively treat PTSD largely depends on where you live and what you can afford. BetterHelp can help you circumvent this problem by placing you in touch with a variety of specialists from anywhere you can access the internet, for significantly cheaper than you might otherwise be able to.

CBT, being a structured form of therapy relying mostly on verbal communication, is very well suited to being done via text chat or over the phone. Even EMDR can be done long distance with the use of 'tapping' instead of eye movements if needed. Online mental health professionals are required to have exactly the same academic qualifications and experience as any other therapists, making online therapy a viable option for anyone who has post-traumatic stress disorder.

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