PTSD counseling draws on several types of cognitive behavioral therapies in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cognitive therapy, exposure therapy and stress inoculation training are among the most widely utilized forms of treatment for PTSD. Most types of PTSD counseling involve one or a combination of these therapies. PTSD therapy may be carried out one-on-one or in group settings.
Most types of PTSD counseling involve cognitive therapy. In this form of therapy, professional counselors help PTSD sufferers to identify past traumas and current thoughts leading to irrational behaviors or unproductive life decisions. A person who witnessed his best friend die in a car accident, for example, might refuse to drive his car for fear of crashing it. In PTSD counseling, he would be guided through reprogramming his thoughts so he no longer suffers from irrational fears related to everyday driving.
When the technique of exposure therapy is used in PTSD counseling, the goal is to desensitize the patient to his traumatic memories. A victim of a violent crime, for example, might feel scared at the thought of the violent event. In exposure therapy, the counselor would guide the patient through the memories of the event, allowing him to face his fears and to gain control over his anxiety-provoking thoughts.
The purpose of stress inoculation training in PTSD counseling is to reduce anxiety and teach coping skills. Patients are taught to gain control over their anxieties. The counselor teaches the patient how to identify anxieties and implement methods to reduce stress. A war veteran who is reliving an unpleasant event from combat, for example, might be taught to breathe deeply and apply relaxation techniques as soon as his memories of the event surface.
In some cases, PTSD counseling is carried out in group settings. The group is generally led by a licensed counselor who creates a safe environment wherein individuals openly share their feelings and experiences. This type of counseling is helpful because it lets the PTSD patient know that he is not alone. By talking about traumatic events and hearing that others have experienced the same trials, an individual can understand that his reactions are normal given the circumstances. PTSD group counseling is also a good way to form a social support system.
PTSD can impact family members and, therefore, counselors sometimes ask patients for their permission to invite relatives to sessions. Family members can offer insight into the duration and extent of the PTSD symptoms. Their attendance in therapy sessions often helps to improve communication and establish coping mechanisms within the family.