Therapy’s Vital Role in Treating PTSD for Military Veterans

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 7% of service personnel suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fortunately, there are recognized psychotherapies that have proven to be effective in treating PTSD. Four of the most common include cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure, and eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing.

How to Recognize PTSD in Veterans

Veterans may feel trapped in a traumatic event they experienced recently or years ago. They find themselves mentally replaying the incident and encountering the same thoughts and feelings they had during the original experience. It can be hard to ask for help in diagnosing, let alone treating PTSD.

Reliving frightening events can cause some veterans to become hyperalert, falsely sensing that ordinary incidents in their daily lives harbor deadly threats. Others may complain of insomnia or nightmares.

Personality changes are not uncommon. They may show little interest in former favorite pastimes. They may also have difficulty regulating emotions, causing communication difficulties among family, friends, and co-workers.

Therapies for PTSD

Therapists will favor one therapy over another defending upon the particulars of veterans’ cases, such as their experiences and current mental state. You may be more familiar with some more than others, but the four listed below have all proven effective. Make sure to find a therapist who specializes in treating PTSD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a version of talk therapy. The veteran and the counselor meet regularly to identify and remodel destructive thinking patterns.

For example, patients may have a distorted view of reality, causing a lowered estimation of their abilities while overestimating the seriousness of daily situations.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) helps patients identify the thinking and emotions that sustain PTSD. CPT is a distinct form of cognitive behavioral therapy for treating PTSD and other forms of trauma disorders.

The therapist may ask patients to write an account of the traumatic event and then read it aloud. Whether therapists employ the written exercise or not, they will use talk therapy with questions to help veterans rethink their experience.

Prolonged Exposure

Prolonged exposure is a method to help veterans confront past traumas. By facing their fears, they can reduce the debilitating effects of PTSD.

Only after gaining the veteran’s trust does the counselor guide the patient through a series of steps where the patient vividly describes the event causing mental anguish. Overall, the therapy may last approximately three months with weekly sessions.

The counselor may also assign homework to complete between sessions. For example, the clinician may ask veterans to confront progressively things that remind them of the trauma. The triggers could be certain places, specific people, or particular items.

Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) concentrates on the veteran’s memory of a traumatic experience. EMDR views PTSD as the result of a memory malfunction. The patient’s brain did not process the memory correctly.

The counselor asks the patient to think for a moment about the traumatic event while undergoing bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation involves left-right input. Most often, the stimulus is back-and-forth eye movement, but could also involve hand taps or sounds.

The clinician gets the patients to move their eyes by asking them to visually track an object, such as the counselor’s hand, moving left to right. Receiving bilateral input while remembering the trauma nudges the brain to record the trauma differently. The result is an ability to think about the incident without experiencing overwhelming stress.