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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. PTSD 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.

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 symptoms, 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 therapy:

  • What’s it like to get trauma/PTSD therapy?
  • How to find a trauma and PTSD therapist near you
  • What does trauma/PTSD 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 PTSD therapy are specifically for treating PTSD and severe trauma-related issues. PTSD is a serious mental health 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 issues, such as depression, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts.

If you’re suffering from PTSD symptoms 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 therapy.

It’s not unusual to think your PTSD symptoms 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 symptoms to progressively get worse. Without treatment, your PTSD symptoms 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 psychotherapies suitable for PTSD, but three of the most effective are eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), prolonged exposure (PE), and cognitive processing therapy (CPT). Certain medications have also been shown to help in treating PTSD symptoms, 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) 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 work for PTSD 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 trauma. 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 PTSD, 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 therapist 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 therapist 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 PTSD. 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 trauma and 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, find out 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 therapists if they offer a sliding fee scale based on income.

IV. What does trauma and PTSD therapy help with?

Anyone can develop PTSD 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 trauma, a prolonged event or series of events may lead to complex PTSD, which causes PTSD symptoms combined with other symptoms like explosive anger, persistent sadness, dissociation, distorted perceptions, and distrust.
  • Substance abuse: 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 PTSD 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 therapist. Also, work up 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?

PTSD therapists utilize various trauma-focused psychotherapy, but some PTSD treatments work better 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 trauma 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 works on adding positive thoughts after the memories become less upsetting.
Cognitive Processing Therapy CPT is a type of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) that involves talking to your PTSD therapist about negative thoughts concerning your trauma and filling out worksheets detailing these thoughts. Your therapist helps you learn to identify and modify your thoughts, which can change how you feel and think about your trauma in a less upsetting way.
Prolonged Exposure PE 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 work up to doing some of the things you’ve been avoiding since your trauma. Facing your fears safely can help you realize you no longer have to avoid unpleasant reminders.
Medication Certain medications have been proven effective in treating PTSD symptoms, 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.

VIII. Sources

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