There are several types of psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These include traditional talk therapies, therapies that focus on coping skills, and more experimental therapies that scientists are still researching.
Treatment for PTSD can be similar to that for other conditions. For example, some types of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are effective for PTSD.
However, because PTSD can cause a person to relive traumatic experiences, it is
Keep reading to learn more about psychotherapy for PTSD, including some of the different types and how to choose.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is one of the main treatments for PTSD.
The aim is to address the underlying cause of a person’s symptoms. For PTSD, this includes the distressing experiences that triggered the condition, the ways a person thinks about or copes with them afterward, or both.
The extent to which PTSD treatment involves remembering or describing the traumatic event can vary. Therapy can also vary depending on a person’s current situation. If a person is still living through a traumatic experience, for example, treatment will need to
There is no single type of therapy that will suit all people. Different styles may help different individuals. A trusting relationship with the therapist is also crucial.
Below are details of some types of psychotherapy that may help with PTSD.
CBT is a therapy that examines how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect one another. It involves identifying, understanding, and changing unhelpful beliefs.
Unlike regular CBT, trauma-focused CBT focuses on changing how a person views and responds to reminders of a traumatic event. The aim is to help the person feel safe, in control, or confident in their ability to cope.
Usually, a CBT course lasts 12–16 weeks. However, this can vary depending on a person’s needs. It will involve practicing CBT techniques in sessions and daily life.
Variants of CBT that may help with PTSD include:
Cognitive processing therapy
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) focuses on the way individuals view themselves, others, and the world. This may help with PTSD by addressing cognitive distortions that may develop after a person experiences a traumatic event, such as the belief that they are to blame or that nobody is trustworthy.
CPT helps a person learn to question whether facts support these thoughts and whether there are more helpful ways to think about a traumatic event.
According to prolonged exposure theory, although avoiding reminders of traumatic memories may provide short-term relief, it may ultimately prevent long-term recovery.
To reduce avoidance, this therapy involves gradual exposure within a safe environment to things that remind a person of a traumatic experience. This may involve imaginary or real-world scenarios.
A 2018 trial involving 200 participants found that 10 weeks of prolonged exposure reduced PTSD symptoms more than the antidepressant sertraline.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) involves revisiting memories while performing movements that mimic rapid eye movement.
In a first session, a therapist will take a person’s history and create a treatment plan. When the person feels ready, the therapist will guide them through specific memories, asking questions. Meanwhile, the person watches an object move from left to right. Alternatively, the person may tap parts of their own body.
This may be a challenging process. However, if the person feels overly uncomfortable at any point, they can tell the therapist they wish to take a break or stop.
Over time, EMDR may help change how memories feel, making them less distressing.
PTSD affects how the brain and nervous system function. Body-based therapies address this by focusing on the mind-body connection. Examples include somatic experiencing and sensorimotor therapy.
There is not as much research on these therapies as on other types. A 2021 review of previous studies suggests that promising evidence supports somatic experiencing as a PTSD treatment. However, more research is necessary.
Some types of therapy focus on teaching skills to manage PTSD symptoms in the present moment.
Although the research for these therapies is not as strong as for CPT or EMDR, it suggests they may help. They do not involve confronting traumatic memories, which may make them a preferred starting point for some people.
Instead of directly processing the traumatic event, present-centered therapy focuses on current issues. It teaches people about the effects of trauma and offers problem-solving techniques to help cope with current stressors.
Stress inoculation training
Stress inoculation training focuses on reducing the anxiety that comes with PTSD by teaching people different ways to respond to their symptoms. These techniques may involve muscle relaxation, breath retraining, or assertiveness skills.
Scientists are still learning about what can help treat PTSD. Newer approaches include:
Psychedelics are psychoactive drugs. This means they affect how the brain works and result in mood changes. Scientists are investigating the use of methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as MDMA, alongside psychotherapy as a PTSD treatment.
Scientists are also exploring virtual reality (VR) as a means of performing exposure therapy. The idea is that VR can create safe, computer-generated simulations that allow a person to confront fears.
A 2020 review suggests that case reports indicate VR may produce positive outcomes. However, further research is required.
There are a lot of options when it comes to psychotherapy. Factors to consider in making a choice include:
- Effectiveness: CBT and its variants are some of the more well-researched types of therapy for PTSD. That said, this does not necessarily mean other therapies are not effective. People can look for evidence-based treatments. If one does not help, they can consider trying another.
- Experience: Because PTSD has some specific treatment requirements, it is important to look for therapists with experience treating the condition and always check their qualifications and accreditation.
- Side effects: PTSD treatment can be challenging at times. Some people may feel safer trying body-based work that involves less talking, while physical touch may be difficult for others.
- Practical considerations: If a person wishes to attend in-person sessions, they will need to choose a therapy type that is available locally. Cost, insurance coverage, and therapist availability may also influence the decision.
Psychotherapy for PTSD can include various types of CBT, such as CPT and exposure therapy. There are also other forms of therapy specifically for addressing traumatic memories, such as EMDR, and treatments that focus on reducing current symptoms.
Some newer experimental therapies that involve psychedelics show promise. However, more research is necessary to understand their benefits and possible risks more fully.