Key Takeaways

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that occurs after trauma. It can be caused by  a sudden event or chronic trauma, and causes both physical and mental symptoms.
  • Living with PTSD can cause your mind and body to respond to triggers in ways that leave you feeling like you’re re-experiencing the trauma. Common PTSD symptoms include nightmares and flashbacks of the traumatic event.
  • While PTSD can be challenging to live with, there are many effective treatments available that can help you manage your symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition caused by exposure to traumatic events. These events can be a one-time occurrence, like a natural disaster or car accident, or a series of ongoing experiences, like chronic abuse or neglect. 

While PTSD is often associated with military veterans or first responders due to the nature of their work, anyone can experience PTSD and the condition causes both physical and mental symptoms that can be difficult to manage without professional help. PTSD is treatable, and learning more about the best therapies for PTSD can help you find the right support.

How do I find out if my insurance covers therapy?

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a mental health condition that affects approximately 3.5% of U.S. adults and 8% of teens ages 13 to 18 each year. This condition is linked to trauma, and everyone responds to trauma differently. Experiencing a traumatic event does not mean you will automatically develop PTSD. It’s entirely normal to experience some uncomfortable effects after a dangerous event or after learning that someone you care about has experienced a trauma. 

However, if, in the aftermath of trauma, it’s been a month since you first experienced some of the following different categories of symptoms, it could indicate the presence of PTSD and it may be time to seek professional help.

Re-experiencing symptoms

  • You have flashbacks — your mind and body react as if you’re reliving the traumatic event (these are often accompanied by physical symptoms, like a racing heart or sweating)
  • You dream about the traumatic event
  • You have distressing thoughts about the traumatic event
  • You experience physical signs of distress like stomach problems or sweating
  • You become triggered by words, objects, or situations that remind you of the traumatic event

Avoidance symptoms

  • You actively steer clear of people, places, events, or objects that remind you of the traumatic experience (triggers)
  • You suppress thoughts or feelings about the traumatic event
  • You change your habits or routines to avoid exposing yourself to any of your triggers

Arousal and reactivity symptoms

  • You’re frequently “jumpy” or easily startled
  • You always feel like you’re on edge or on guard
  • You have trouble focusing or concentrating on tasks
  • You struggle to fall or stay asleep 
  • You have a quick temper and get angry easily
  • You’ve engaged in behaviors that could harm yourself or others (like reckless driving)

Cognition and mood symptoms

  • You have trouble remembering details about the traumatic event
  • You have negative thoughts about yourself or the world
  • You blame yourself or others for things beyond your/their control
  • You frequently feel negative emotions like guilt, shame, fear, or anger
  • You feel lonely, isolated, or detached from friends and loved ones
  • You no longer have an interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • You struggle to feel happiness, satisfaction, or other positive emotions

How can therapy help PTSD?

Going to therapy can give you a safe space to process your experience of PTSD and develop healthy coping strategies to help you manage your symptoms. Therapy can also help you learn more about how your mind works and uncover how your past experiences, including your experiences of trauma, impact your mental and physical health. Fortunately, several kinds of therapy have proven effective in helping people heal from the effects of PTSD, including the following.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 

CBT leverages something called “cognitive restructuring” which helps people with PTSD begin to change how they think about past traumas. In reflecting on their trauma, people can begin to identify unhelpful thought patterns and replace them with more balanced ones. 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) 

DBT is a form of CBT that is most known for treating borderline personality disorder (BPD). Since many people living with BPD also frequently experience PTSD, it is believed that DBT can be an effective treatment for both conditions. Because of its focus on self-acceptance and learning to process emotions in a healthy way, DBT may be especially helpful for people with PTSD who are also at risk for self-harm.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a simple, non-invasive therapeutic experience that takes place in a therapist’s office (or via telehealth). It involves focusing on back-and-forth (bilateral movements) or sounds while recalling traumatic events. With your provider’s support, these sessions allow you to shift how you think and feel about your trauma. Research shows that in doing so, EMDR provides some relief from PTSD symptoms.

Prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD 

Prolonged exposure therapy is a form of CBT that helps you gradually engage with the trauma-related thoughts and feelings that you may be avoiding. It takes place under the supervision of your therapist and is designed to help you safely and slowly expose yourself to your triggers so that, over time, they have less of an impact on you. Research shows that confronting your fears in this way can help you manage symptoms of PTSD.

Narrative exposure therapy for PTSD

Narrative exposure therapy is a form of CBT that is frequently conducted in groups and is often used to support individuals who experienced trauma due to social or political factors (like refugees). It hinges on the belief in the healing power of reclaiming one’s story and encourages participants to begin to view traumatic events as part of their story, instead of the only thing that defines them. 

Therapy and psychiatry – Find the right option for you

Finding the right therapist and therapy type for PTSD

There are many different types of therapy for PTSD. For some people, understanding their options helps them feel more prepared to find the right therapist and enter treatment. 

However, know that you don’t need to fully understand all the ins and outs of PTSD treatment to begin therapy. In fact, if reviewing all the different types of therapy for PTSD leaves you feeling overwhelmed, that’s completely ok! What’s most important is finding a trauma-informed therapist who you feel comfortable with. They will listen to your concerns, provide a professional evaluation, and support you in choosing the right form of therapy for your situation. 

Find support for PTSD with Rula

If you or someone you care about is struggling in the aftermath of trauma, know that you’re not alone and that help is available. 

At Rula, we’re here to make it easy to connect with a trauma-informed therapist who takes your insurance and who will provide the support you need to heal from PTSD and any other mental health conditions you might be living with. 

Plus, if medication ends up being a part of your treatment plan, we can also connect you with a psychiatrist on our platform and ensure that the members of your care team work together towards the best outcomes possible. And, our diverse network of over 8,000 therapists means you can be seen this week. 

Trauma and PTSD therapists near you

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