Counseling Therapy And PTSD

Updated September 30, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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.

In honor of PTSD awareness month, this article talks about PTSD counseling and how to seek effective, evidence based treatment. According to the National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), going through trauma is not rare.

In fact, according to the VA, roughly 6 out of 10 men and 5 out of 10 women in the US - 12 million adults - go through at least one traumatic experience in their lives. A small portion of those will develop a PTSD diagnosis.

PTSD Symptoms

Some symptoms of PTSD may develop within a few weeks or a month after a traumatic event, but other symptoms sometimes take years to emerge.

There are four main groups of PTSD symptoms:

Intrusive Memories

You Don't Have To Live In The Grip Of PTSD

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • Recurring and involuntary memories of the traumatic event
  • Continually reliving the event in question
  • Nightmares regarding said event
  • Severe anxiety or other negative thoughts, feelings, or physical reactions (increased heart rate, etc) when exposed to a reminder of the traumatic experience


Symptoms of avoidance may include:

  • Avoiding all places, people, or situations which may remind one of the traumatic event
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the event

Negative Changes In Mood

Negative changes in mood may include the following:

  • Despair or hopelessness about the future
  • Negative thoughts or feelings about oneself; low self-esteem
  • Repressed memories regarding the traumatic experience
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feelings of emotional numbness
  • Impaired ability to experience joy

Changes In Physical And Emotional Reactions

Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions can include:

  • Being easily frightened (“jumpy”)
  • Persistent vigilance against danger and potential threats
  • Reckless and self-destructive behavior, such as driving too fast or substance abuse problems
  • Sleeping issues
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Irritability and hair-trigger temper
  • Feelings of guilt or shame (ex: a rape survivor may feel guilty about not fighting back; a war veteran may feel guilty about coming home when his comrades did not)

PTSD symptoms can be managed with a combination of trauma-focused therapy treatments and medications (use of medications should always be supervised by a doctor).

Can A Therapist Diagnose PTSD?

Can a therapist diagnose PTSD? Yes, seeking help from an online therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor can be a really effective PTSD treatment option. If you are curious about possibly having PTSD before seeking help from a therapist, many people take an online PTSD test for faster results.

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.

Anyone can find more information by visiting the National Center’s website. If you or a loved one ever finds themself in a crisis, a PTSD hotline is a great resource that is available.

What are Some Therapies for PTSD?

Although every case is different, post-traumatic stress disorder occurs as an adverse reaction to some kind of shocking, physically threatening experience. Some even experience high levels of PTSD and anger, and therapy services have been really useful for treatment.

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.

The following are some varieties of therapy treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. These treatments all have strong research support, and can take the form of either individual therapy or group therapy.

Treatments Include:

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

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 and reduce anxiety. CBT treatments traditionally occur over 12 to 16 weekly sessions.

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, or cognitive processing therapy can help someone get better by reducing the anxiety and depression associated with traumatic events.

Stress Inoculation Training

A person can also see relief with stress inoculation training (SIT). This is a type of CBT which helps people with PTSD learn how to cope with traumatic events and manage their symptoms.

SIT has strong research support as a treatment for PTSD - studies show it significantly reduces feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression in people with PTSD.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Many people with PTSD tend to avoid situations, activities, and thoughts that can remind them of a dangerous or fearful life event or the traumatic experience they lived through, which can prevent them from living their life to the fullest extent possible and can negatively affect them as well.

While this can be a way to manage attacks over the short term, it need not be a lifelong burden.

Prolonged 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 prolonged exposure therapy is called gradual exposure. This is, of course, not easy to begin with, but offers the surest road to eventual recovery. Prolonged exposure therapy can sometimes be used in conjunction with medications, in order to limit other symptoms as well.

Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or, 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 back-and-forth movement of the eyes 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.

EMDR can improve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, particularly those related to intrusive memories and avoidance, as well as decrease negative feelings associated with the traumatic event.

Present-Centered Therapy

Present-centered therapy (PCT) is a time-limited PTSD treatment. The treatment focuses on helping patients understand and identify the PTSD symptoms which may affect their ability to function. Treatment with PCT may also involve homework for patients wherein they practice problem-solving and coping skills, helping them to gain control of their condition.

Cognitive-Processing Therapy

A type of cognitive therapy, Cognitive-processing therapy (CPT) is similar to CBT in that they both focus on helping patients transform their thought patterns from negative to positive. But, where CBT is broadly applicable as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, CPT is exclusively focused on posttraumatic stress disorder.

Other Treatments For PTSD

Besides therapy itself, there are various medications available as treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder. Most of these medications are anti-anxiety medications, which come in two principal types:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI)
  • Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor (SNRI)

SSRI’s and SNRI’s both affect the reuptake of neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals. Reuptake simply refers to how the brain, after releasing neurotransmitters to cause a person to feel certain moods or feelings, will take those chemicals back up into the neurons.

Reuptake inhibitors, therefore, aim to keep those chemicals active for longer to extend the feelings or moods associated with them (for this reason they’re sometimes known as mood stabilizers). SNRI’s inhibit the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Serotonin is associated with feelings of optimism, satisfaction and happiness. Norepinephrine, meanwhile, increased heart rate and blood circulation.

The Four Principal SSRI/SNRI Medications Used For Ptsd Treatment Are:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)

The clinician’s guide to PTSD treatment used by the VA’s National Center for PTSD recommends both trauma-focused therapy and medications as treatments for PTSD.

Note: All of these medications should only be taken in close consultation with a doctor or trained therapist.

You Don't Have To Live In The Grip Of PTSD

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 or doctor, 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 and the National Center for PTSD 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. 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.

Some commonly asked questions on this topic are:

What  Type Of Therapy Is Best For PTSD?

One of the best types of therapy for PTSD is Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT. This type of treatment focuses on allowing people to change the way they think and behave, in specific situations. This type of therapy can help an individual overcome a specific traumatic event.

Does Counseling Help With  PTSD?

Counseling, including individual therapy, can be effective when it comes to treating posttraumatic stress disorder. There are many types of counseling that can be effective for this type of condition, and for treating ptsd symptoms. If you are interested in learning more about the treatment options associated with PTSD, you can talk to a counselor or therapist for advice.

What Are 3 Treatments For PTSD?

If a person needs ptsd treatment, there are a few types they may see benefit from. In addition to cognitive therapy, a professional might suggest prolonged exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and present centered therapy. To learn more about these treatments, you can talk to a therapist or conduct some research online. A doctor may prescribe medications to help treat PTSD as well.

What  Are The 5 Stages Of PTSD?

Some experts feel that there are 5 stages of posttraumatic stress disorder, but others indicate that there are 4 types of symptoms that an individual may experience, including intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in how they think, and changes in how they behave. Keep in mind that the symptoms of ptsd will be different from individual to individual.

Will PTSD Ever Go Away?

Posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as the ptsd symptoms that accompany it, may go away with effective treatments. This can happen in a few weeks, or it may take years for a person to feel like themselves again. This condition can affect people in different ways, where they may have negative thoughts, anxiety, stress, unhelpful beliefs, and feel guilty, which can all interfere with their daily life. It can take multiple treatments from a doctor or therapist for them to feel like they can take back their life again.

What  Happens If PTSD Is Left Untreated?

If people with ptsd don’t take advantage of treatments or work with a doctor, they may experience unwanted symptoms or negative thoughts that they are unable to control, such as frequent stress and anxiety. They may also experience a mental health condition. Visit the National Center for PTSD website when you wish to learn more about ptsd treatment and what it consists of. You will be able to find information that has research support, which may make you more comfortable, in terms of working with a therapist.

How Long Does PTSD Take To Heal?

The amount of time that PTSD may take to heal depends on the individual. If they are taking advantage of treatment, they may see a reduction in symptoms within months. On the other hand, the traumatic event they were exposed to may have been reoccurring or caused them to experience severe anxiety, which can take longer to see a lessening of symptoms or the severity of them. Once you get a diagnosis of PTSD, it is important to work with a doctor as soon as possible to develop a treatment plan that will improve symptoms and help you gain control of your life.

What Is The Best Mood Stabilizer For PTSD?

Antidepressants are the type of medications that is sometimes prescribed to alleviate certain symptoms when it comes to PTSD. These medications are likely to be one of the treatments that a doctor will suggest in your treatment plan. They may also talk to you about trauma focused therapy, stress inoculation training, back and forth movement for your eyes, and other treatments that may limit other symptoms you are expressing. Overall, the medications and treatments that are appropriate for one person may not be helpful for another.

How Do You Treat Yourself For  PTSD?

If you intend to treat yourself for PTSD, you might want to consider looking at the website for the National Center for PTSD, which has plenty of helpful advice and resources to consider. You should also look into ptsd counseling, which could be the most helpful treatment to take advantage of. You can opt for group therapy in weekly sessions, so you won’t have to talk to a doctor alone, ask about trauma focused therapy options, or read the Clinician’s Guide to PTSD.

What  Is The Most Common Drug Prescribed For PTSD?      

There are generally four medications that may be prescribed for ptsd treatment. They are all selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, which is another name for antidepressants. These medications are designed to allow the passage of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. There may be other medications prescribed by your doctor as well, depending on the symptoms you experience.

What Is The Gold Standard Treatment For PTSD?

When it comes to treatments for post traumatic stress disorder ptsd, one of the most effective types of treatment is therapy. The therapy should focus on the trauma or traumatic experience that an individual experienced, so a patient is able to work through the events that have occurred and may have caused them trauma, grief, and other negative feelings. This idea has research support, when it comes to numbering the effective treatments for this condition.

You Don't Have To Face Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Alone.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started