Effective treatments for PTSD are available, and include counselling, medication, or a combination of both. These treatments can work even if your traumatic experience was a long time ago.
It is generally best to start with counselling rather than use medication as the first and only solution to the problem. Recommended counselling approaches for PTSD include trauma-focussed cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR).
Both these approaches will help you to:
- learn ways to confront and come to terms with painful memories, thoughts and images, so you don’t feel as distressed by them
- learn strategies to help you get back into activities or visit places that you have avoided since the trauma because they have been too distressing
- learn tools to help you relax when you start getting too anxious or wound up
- explore thoughts that may be making your memories of the event more painful
Counselling can involve around 8 to 12 sessions, though in some cases it might take longer.
Mark’s story: “The exposure therapy just took all the power out of the images… it was a big part of recovery.”
What will happen during counselling?
The most important thing when getting help for PTSD is to face, and deal with, the memory of the traumatic event rather than pushing it to the back of your mind. This is the main aim of trauma-focussed CBT or EMDR.
Because the memory of a traumatic event can cause intense fear, anxiety and distress, people often want to avoid anything associated with the trauma. Although avoiding reminders of the trauma provides some relief at the time, it is one of the main reasons why some people don’t recover. When people rely on avoiding certain things to cope, they don’t have the opportunity to come to terms with what happened to them or to develop skills that will help them feel safe when thinking about the traumatic event. The anxiety and avoidance can then affect other areas of their lives.
During treatment for PTSD you will learn ways to face traumatic memories and confront situations that you have avoided since the event so that you don’t feel so distressed by them. Your counsellor will take things slowly, help you gain control of your fears step by step, and teach you skills to manage any distress you might experience so that you never become overwhelmed by your feelings.
You will be encouraged to examine how your thoughts about the event may be making the memory of it more painful. Many people blame themselves for what happened, or start seeing the world as a dangerous place after a traumatic event, and need help to deal with these thoughts.