Counseling Therapy And PTSD
By: Nadia Khan
Updated May 07, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Melinda Santa
Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.
As described by the American Psychological Association (APA), post-traumatic 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, or sexual 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.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 to be an option.
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 sexually or physically assaulted as adults might develop complex PTSD.
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
Symptoms for PTSD don’t necessarily show up right away, which is something that people don’t always realize. Because our brains are unique and process things differently, for some, it may take years for the 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. Those experiencing itare usually reluctant to open up to others about their traumaeven when seeking help from a specialist. But PTSD isn't something you can just “get over.”
The primary treatments for PTSD are psychotherapy and medication or a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioraltherapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) have been proven by research to be effective approaches to deal with PTSD. Regardless of yourtreatment, 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 their 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 help them 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 their own thoughts and feelings as they occur and to replace 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, which can prevent 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 eight-phase treatment that helps those affected by 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 go through during REM sleep and allows the client undergoing EMDR therapy to be exposed 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.
If you’re ready for the help and support of a counselor, you can start at BetterHelp.
As we mentioned above, CBT is a common therapy for PTSD. It is also one of the most well-studied types of therapy for treating PTSD online. U.S. Veterans Affairs has studied if online CBT is just as effective as traditional in-person therapy. One recent study looked at 132 veterans and found that delivering CBT online is just as good as conducting a therapy session in person.
The VA has been looking at this issue for some reasons that can be obvious even if you’re not a veteran. If you have difficulty leaving your home or live in a remote area, online therapy offers options you might have not otherwise had. You can contact your counselor from any place where you’re comfortable as long as you have a secure, reliable internet connection. Online therapy also tends to be more affordable than traditional therapy.
Here are some recent reviews by BetterHelp users of their counselors:
“Paula is wonderful. She has been here for me since day one, and I feel like she truly is in my corner. She is patient, kind, and is excellent in dealing with chronic trauma and PTSD. She teaches me how my brain works, how I can deal with my emotions (and that it's okay to have them!), and she is helping me process the things that happened to me. She had good insights, and levels with me very well.” Read more on Paula Moore.
“Bailey is grounded, understanding, genuine, empathetic and experienced in a variety of different counseling and therapy practices. I feel like she meets me at my level, gives honest and helpful feedback, is reliable and has been more effective in her methods of teaching me viable coping mechanisms that aid in me living successfully with anxiety, bipolar depression and PTSD. In fact, her sessions have helped me more than any other professional’s have or other methods I’ve tried including psychiatrists, nurses, naturopathic doctors, homeopathic doctors, other therapists and medications. She’s able to give me weekly feedback in real time that I can use to address situations as they come up. I highly recommend Bailey for so many reasons, but my number one reason besides how knowledge she is, is her ability to meet me on my level. I feel like we’re equals in conversation instead of professional and patient. This facilitates me feeling able to talk about anything and everything with her without feeling judged. Because of this we’ve been able to tackle parts of my psyche that I have held back from other mental health professionals. I always look forward to our sessions. Even when they are difficult they are effective. I feel like I’ve made more progress in my overall emotional and mental health with Bailey in a handful of months than I had in several years combined prior to this. Thank you, Bailey. You chose the right profession to help others and I’m very grateful that I’ve found you as my counselor.” Read more on Bailey Dougherty.
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