Therapy is an essential part of PTSD treatment. Working with a therapist helps patients deal with upsetting memories and process them in less painful ways.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is believed to be the most effective approach to PTSD therapy, according to the National Center for PTSD (2007). Cognitive behavioral therapies used for the treatment of PTSD include exposure therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
Cognitive Therapy for PTSD
Cognitive therapy works by helping you understand and change the way you think about your trauma. Cognitive therapy can ease PTSD suffering by helping you:
- Gain an understanding about how certain thoughts increase your stress and worsen your symptoms
- Identify thoughts that make you afraid, angry or upset
- Replace those thoughts with others that are more accurate and less upsetting.
Cognitive therapy provides ways for patients to deal with their intense feelings. Additionally, it helps them understand that they aren’t to blame for a traumatic experience, and that they shouldn’t feel guilt or shame about their trauma.
Exposure therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy based on the idea that you learn to fear feelings, thoughts and situations associated with a trauma. By repeatedly talking with a therapist about the trauma, you can gain control over the way you react to these memories. Techniques that may be used in exposure therapy include:
- Desensitization. You begin by talking about memories that aren’t so upsetting, gradually progressing to the worst ones.
- Flooding, which involves remembering many bad memories at once. The goal is to train you not to be overwhelmed by your memories.
- Relaxation techniques, such as breathing strategies to use when recalling traumatic memories.
It may sound painful and counterintuitive to purposefully recall traumatic events as a therapy for PTSD. However, the long-term goal is to help you learn new responses to these memories and be able to deal with them more comfortably.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR is another type of cognitive behavioral therapy used as a PTSD treatment. It also works to change the way you react to traumatic memory.
EMDR therapy involves focusing on the negative thought or memory while receiving external stimuli. Eye movement is the most commonly used stimulus, with the patient being asked to follow the therapist’s fingers with her eyes for 20 to 30 seconds or more. Other stimuli may include auditory tones and tapping.
After many repetitions, the patient no longer feels upset during this procedure. He then works with a preferred positive belief, and focuses on this and the traumatic memory, while repeating the eye movements or other external stimuli.
Scientists are not exactly sure how EMDR works. In fact, research as shown that the eye movements themselves aren’t necessary for the treatment to be successful.
Other PTSD Therapy
Sometimes, other types of therapy may be used as treatment for PTSD. These include brief psychodynamic psychotherapy, family therapy or group therapy.
EMDR Institute. (2004). A brief description of EMDR. Retrieved July 5, 2010, from: http://www.emdr.com/briefdes.htm.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2010). Treatment of PTSD. Retrieved July 5, 2010, from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/treatment-ptsd.asp.