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I. What is PTSD Therapy?

Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) therapists help men, women, children, and adults who’ve developed PTSD after experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe type of anxiety disorder that can disrupt your entire life.

Left untreated, PTSD usually doesn’t get better and often gets worse. Without treatment, PTSD can cause serious problems with your health, relationships, and daily activities. It may also lead to risky and self-destructive behaviors.

PTSD can impact anyone who’s experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.

A therapist trained to provide trauma-focused psychotherapy for PTSD can play a vital role in your recovery. With the right treatment, you can overcome PTSD, learn coping skills to better handle negative thoughts and feelings, and reconnect with the people you care about.

What you should know about trauma and PTSD treatment:

  • What’s it like to get trauma/PTSD therapy?
  • How to find a trauma and PTSD therapist near you
  • What does trauma/post-traumatic stress disorder therapy help with?
  • How can you prepare for trauma and PTSD therapy?

II. What's it like to get trauma and PTSD therapy?

Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder therapy are specifically for treating post-traumatic stress disorder and severe trauma-related issues. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious psychological condition that can occur after someone experiences or witnesses something traumatic, such as combat, a serious accident, physical or sexual assault, or a natural disaster. Many people seeking therapy for PTSD may also have co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts that could benefit from treatment.

If you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder side effects that are affecting your relationships with family and friends or impacting your performance at work or school, you should consider finding a trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder therapist near you. If your symptoms have gradually become more upsetting, disrupted your daily life, and/or last longer than a few months, it’s time to consider treatment.

It’s not unusual to think your post-traumatic stress disorder will fade away over time, but this isn’t likely. The longer you’ve had symptoms, the more difficult it is to move past them. Even if you feel you can handle your symptoms now, it’s common for post-traumatic stress disorder to progressively get worse. Without treatment, your PTSD can harm your relationships, career, quality of life, and overall well-being.

Trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most recommended PTSD treatments. There are numerous types of trauma-focused therapies suitable for PTSD, but three of the most effective are eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), stress inoculation training (SIT), and narrative exposure therapy (NET).

Cognitive processing therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that’s been shown to help mitigate post-traumatic stress disorder. Stress inoculation training (SIT) is also a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that can be used for treating post-traumatic disorder side effects. SIT teaches people coping skills to help manage stressful situations and traumatic events.

Narrative exposure therapy (NET) is often used in community or small group settings for people who have been through traumatic experiences related to political, cultural or social forces. It is usually conducted over the course of four to 10 sessions, and while small groups are the most common, can be done in an individual setting.

Certain medications have also been shown to help in treating symptoms of PTSD, including antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Everyone is different, so no treatment is right for everyone. Your therapist can help you discover the right PTSD treatment(s) and/or medications for your needs.

III. How to find a trauma and PTSD therapist

Finding a post-traumatic stress disorder therapist near you who provides psychotherapy proven to helpr post-traumatic stress disorder is vital to ensure a good fit for your mental health needs. A good PTSD therapist can treat you even if they’ve never personally been through a traumatic experience. What’s important is that you’re comfortable talking with your therapist and they understand how you think and feel about your experience, so they can help you manage or overcome your symptoms effectively.

Although it’s common for combat veterans to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, it can impact anyone who’s experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Depending on your personal experience, you may feel more comfortable talking to a PTSD mental health professional who’s close to your age or someone older. You may be more at ease talking to someone of the same sex or the opposite sex. LGBTQ individuals need nonjudgmental counselors sensitive to their sexual orientation, which may have factored in their trauma. If you’re devoutly religious, you may prefer a mental health professional who incorporates faith-based principles.

Mental health professionals may have different training, experience, and credentials, so take care to choose one who’s trained and qualified to provide treatments specifically geared toward post-traumatic stress disorder. All states require mental health counselors to be licensed to practice, so always check credentials to ensure you choose a therapist who’s proven their therapeutic capabilities through state-mandated regulations.

Another factor in finding the right post-traumatic stress disorder therapist near you is cost, but don’t let the price tag stop you from getting the help you need. If you have insurance, ask if your policy covers mental health and ask potential therapists if they work with your insurance provider. If you’re paying out of pocket, ask if they offer a sliding fee scale based on income.

IV. What does trauma and PTSD therapy help with?

Anyone can develop post-traumatic stress disorder at any age, from children who’ve experienced physical or sexual abuse to adults in the military. Trauma-focused treatments may help with:

  • Combat-related PTSD: This is a specific type of PTSD experienced by veterans that goes beyond combat stress and often includes flashbacks that involve the sights and sounds of combat and survivor’s guilt.
  • Complex PTSD: Instead of a single traumatic event, a prolonged experience or series of events may lead to complex PTSD, which causes PTSD combined with other side effects like explosive anger, persistent sadness, dissociation, distorted perceptions, and distrust.
  • Substance abuse problems: Abusing drugs and/or alcohol to mitigate distressing symptoms is frequently a co-occurring condition of PTSD and requires therapy that addresses both conditions.
  • Self-harm: Trauma survivors sometimes turn to self-harm with or without suicidal intent and other self-destructive or risky behaviors to manage negative emotions.

V. How can you prepare for trauma and PTSD therapy?

There are various ways you can prepare for your first post-traumatic stress disorder therapy session to get ready for treatment. If you’re aware of triggers that cause upsetting reactions, such as certain sights, sounds, or smells, document these details to share with your mental health professional. Also, create a detailed list of your symptoms, the duration and intensity of these symptoms, and what’s bothering you most about them. Symptoms may include nightmares, hypervigilance, flashbacks, reckless behavior, difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, difficulty controlling emotions, and extreme avoidance of anything that reminds you of your trauma.

VI. What are common trauma and PTSD therapy treatments?

Post-traumatic stress disorder therapists utilize various trauma-focused psychotherapy, but some PTSD treatments have a higher rate of success than others. Although no one treatment works for everyone, multiple research studies predominantly support these options:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing EMDR helps you process disturbing memories and feelings related to your trauma. This psychotherapy requires you to recall the traumatic experience while focusing on an external sound or movement while you talk, helping your brain work through distressing memories. Your therapist works with you to change how you react to these memories, then on adding positive thinking after the memories become less upsetting.
Cognitive Processing Therapy Cognitive processing therapy is a type of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that involves talking to your PTSD therapist about negative thinking concerning your trauma and filling out worksheets detailing these thought patterns. Your therapist helps you learn to identify and modify your thinking, which can change how you feel and think about your trauma in a less upsetting way.
Prolonged Exposure Prolonged exposure therapy is another type of CBT that helps you gain control of negative thoughts and feelings by facing them after repeatedly talking to your therapist about your trauma. The goal is to build up to doing some of the things you’ve been avoiding since your traumatic experience. Facing your fears safely can help you realize you no longer have to avoid unpleasant reminders.
Medication Certain medications have been proven helpful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when combined with therapy. Antidepressants, including SSRIs and SNRIs, help restore the balance of naturally occurring serotonin and/or norepinephrine in your brain. These chemicals play a vital role in how you feel. The most effective antidepressants for PTSD include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, and their generic counterparts. Some medications, including benzodiazepines, aren’t recommended and can have serious side effects over time.

VII. What else can help?

Consider keeping a journal to detail your experiences and use it as a coping technique.

Practice grounding techniques, which can help you stay connected to the present and cope with flashbacks. Learn your triggers, so you can develop self-care techniques to counter undesirable responses. Exercise regularly to help burn off adrenaline and release endorphins that help improve your mood. Other helpful tips include eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and practicing deep breathing and relaxation techniques.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, you may not want to wait for treatment. Consider calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline, a 24/7 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families struggling with mental health or substance abuse problems. The number for the national helpline is 1-800-662-4357.

author-img
LCSW

Caitlin Kingston is a licensed clinical social worker at Yale New Haven Hospital and has worked in the field since 2013. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Penn State University and her Master of Social Work, clinical/medical social work in 2020 from Fordham University. Her licenses and certifications include LCSW, LMSW, and CASAC.

Kingston has always had a passion for helping others and knew early on that she wanted to support others in her profession. During her undergraduate studies at Penn State, she met a social worker who inspired her to pursue a career as a therapist. She’s also trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy with the New York School for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. Kingston completed internships working in an after-school program with underprivileged youth and their families and with inmates in the high-security sector of Rikers Island jail.

Kingston’s career has included work at a drug treatment center, where she became the supervisor of intake and assessment for individuals with alcohol and substance use disorders. Today, she’s a social worker in the Psychiatric Observation Unit of the emergency department. Kingston is also trained in perinatal mental health with a focus on helping new mothers adjust to motherhood, especially in these very difficult times of isolation.

author-img
LCSW

Caitlin Kingston is a licensed clinical social worker at Yale New Haven Hospital and has worked in the field since 2013. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Penn State University and her Master of Social Work, clinical/medical social work in 2020 from Fordham University. Her licenses and certifications include LCSW, LMSW, and CASAC.

Kingston has always had a passion for helping others and knew early on that she wanted to support others in her profession. During her undergraduate studies at Penn State, she met a social worker who inspired her to pursue a career as a therapist. She’s also trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy with the New York School for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. Kingston completed internships working in an after-school program with underprivileged youth and their families and with inmates in the high-security sector of Rikers Island jail.

Kingston’s career has included work at a drug treatment center, where she became the supervisor of intake and assessment for individuals with alcohol and substance use disorders. Today, she’s a social worker in the Psychiatric Observation Unit of the emergency department. Kingston is also trained in perinatal mental health with a focus on helping new mothers adjust to motherhood, especially in these very difficult times of isolation.

VIII. Sources

To learn more, explore the sources used for this guide.