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PTSD Therapy: How It Helps and What To Expect

man and woman feeling stressed

Key Takeaways:

  • PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that arises due to exposure to traumatic events or prolonged traumatic environments
  • PTSD symptoms vary, but can range from low-level underlying anxiety to severe panic episodes
  • Therapy with a licensed professional can help those with PTSD manage symptoms and begin to process trauma safely

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health condition that can occur in patients after they have experienced a traumatic event, or have lived in generally traumatic circumstances.

PTSD can be chronic and severe, and is often characterized by panic attacks, general anxiety, and intrusive thoughts.

Let's explore your options for therapy as a person with PTSD, and discover exactly how effective it can be.

PTSD Therapy Resources on This Page:

Therapy for PTSD

Learning About PTSD

Therapy for PTSD

While there are medications for PTSD, like Zoloft and Prozac, talk therapy with a licensed professional has also been shown to be an effective treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, or think you may have it, your first step is to talk to a medical professional.

A licensed therapist or psychologist will be able to guide you to the right therapy for your specific case.

In general, there are 3 kinds of talk therapy that may be able to help with PTSD:

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy

  • Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Each of these forms of therapy has been studied in scientific environments and indicates significant levels of improvements in symptoms within a course of sessions.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged exposure therapy is a form of evidence-backed therapy for PTSD that relies on exposing the patient to the problem-causing stimulus.

A counter-intuitive process, prolonged exposure therapy involves talking about or recalling the traumatic event that is believed to be causing symptoms.

There are two main types of exposure that patients may encounter during sessions of prolonged exposure therapy:

  • In Vivo Exposure: Literally Latin for "within the living", in vivo exposure refers to real-life exposure to traumatic stimulus. An example of in vivo exposure is a veteran with battle-related PTSD listening to audio of gunfire.

  • Imaginal Exposure: This type of exposure is purely mental. Typically, a therapist will guide their patient as they relive the traumatic experience through memory. An example would be a patient retelling the order of events of a severe car accident.

Exposure therapy can cause more harm than good when no administered by a licensed therapist or psychologist. The therapist's job during sessions is to ensure that the patient understands the safety of their true environment (i.e., the therapist's office, not the memory of a traumatic event.)

The therapist will also be responsible for reestablishing emotional stasis after the exposure. Because exposure tends to be an extremely jarring and disconcerting process, especially in the first few sessions, patients are often left in states of high distress and anxiety. Part of the therapist's role is to guide the patient back to an emotionally stable state.

Cognitive Processing Therapy and Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Two similar therapies, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) are both offshoots of standard CBT.

In both therapies, patients work with the therapist to first analyze any damaging thought processes related to their trauma, and then expand on the details of the traumatic experience.

Then, the therapist will use their expertise to determine exactly how the traumatic events impact the patient's life and mind.

Finally, the therapist uses trauma-focused talk therapy to interrupt these negative thought processes and help the patient process the events in a healthy way.

How effective is therapy for PTSD?

Very effective!

Here are the percentages of people with PTSD who lost their diagnosis (that is, had enough of an improvement of their symptoms to where they don't really qualify for the diagnosis of PTSD) due to each type of therapy: PE, CPT, and TF-CBT:

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: 41% to 95%

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: 30% to 95%

  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: 61% to 82.4%

Clearly, then, therapy is generally effective for PTSD, so long as it is administered by a licensed professional.

PTSD Anxiety (1920 × 1080 px) (1)

Learning About PTSD

We know that therapy is very effective for PTSD, with most patients showing at least some improvement in their symptoms, and a significant proportion of patients being relieved of their PTSD diagnosis.

But how? Why does therapy with a licensed professional work better than, say, a self-help book?

The simple answer is that licensed therapists only use - and indeed build on - practices that are based on evidence, observable fact, and brain biology.

What Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Physiologically?

PTSD is caused by your brain getting stuck in fight-or-flight mode. Essentially, even though there may be no active and immediate danger, the brain in someone with PTSD continues to release hormones and electrical signals in quantities that are normally only exist during periods of great stress.

Scientists have found that, in people with PTSD, the amygdala (the brain's fear center) is more active.

What events can cause PTSD?

Any event that is severely alarming, distressing, or frightening can cause or contribute to developing PTSD.

Some examples of events that can cause PTSD include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Severe car accidents

  • Military combat

  • Sexual assault and rape

  • Parental or spousal abuse

How common is PTSD?

While there are certainly many undiagnosed cases of PTSD that we simply don't know about, it appears that about 8% of Americans, or around 25 million people, have PTSD in the United States.

PTSD Therapy in Austin: Williamsburg Therapy Group

For Austinites with PTSD, finding relief from symptoms is essential.

Our team of doctoral-level psychologists is on-hand to administer the best and most effective evidence-based psychotherapy available.

Schedule an appointment online or call our office to speak with our patient coordinator, who will assist you in finding the right therapist for you.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today


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