Home > Health Library > Counseling for PTSD
When you have
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dealing with
the past can be hard. Instead of telling others how you feel, you may keep your
feelings bottled up. But talking with a therapist can help you get
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of
counseling. It appears to be an effective type of counseling for PTSD. In
CBT, a therapist helps you deal with your feelings about the past. You'll have
weekly hour-long visits for a few weeks or months or as long as it takes for
you to feel better. CBT may help you have fewer PTSD symptoms over time.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) may also be an effective treatment.
After a traumatic
event, you might blame yourself for things you couldn't have changed. For
example, a soldier may feel guilty about decisions he or she had to make during
war. Cognitive therapy, a type of CBT, helps you understand that the traumatic
event you lived through was not your fault.
In cognitive therapy,
your therapist helps you understand and change how you think about your trauma
and its aftermath. Your goal is to understand how certain thoughts about your
trauma cause you stress and make your symptoms worse.
learn to identify thoughts about the world and yourself that are making you
feel afraid or upset. With the help of your therapist, you will learn to
replace these thoughts with more accurate and less distressing thoughts. You
also learn ways to cope with feelings such as anger, guilt, and fear.
In exposure therapy,
your goal is to have less fear about your memories. It is based on the idea
that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them
of a past traumatic event.
By talking about your trauma repeatedly
with a therapist, you'll learn to get control of your thoughts and feelings
about the trauma. This is because each time you talk about the past, you become less scared and sensitive to the memories. This may be hard at first. It might seem strange to think
about stressful things on purpose.
But you'll feel less
overwhelmed over time. With the help of your therapist, you can change how you
react to the stressful memories. Talking in a place where you feel secure makes
You also may practice different ways to relax when you're having a
stressful memory. Breathing exercises are sometimes used for this.
Eye movement desensitization and
reprocessing (EMDR) is another therapy for PTSD. Like other kinds of
counseling, it can help change how you react to memories of your trauma.
While talking about your memories, you'll focus on stimuli like eye
movements, hand taps, and sounds. For example, your therapist will move his or
her hand near your face, and you'll follow this movement with your eyes. You'll also learn skills to help you relax and handle emotional distress.
Doctors think that focusing on hand movements or sounds while you talk about the traumatic event may help change how you react to memories of your trauma over time. But, experts are still learning how EMDR works. Studies have shown that it
may help you have fewer PTSD symptoms.footnote 1 But research
also suggests that the eye movements are not a necessary part of the
EMDR may not be available at all clinics or
For more information, see the topic
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Bisson J (2010). Post-traumatic stress disorder, search date March 2009. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015
Current as of:
November 20, 2015
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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