There are a few psychotherapies with evidence for reducing PTSD. Only three are strongly recommended according to evidence-based treatment guidelines:
- Prolonged Exposure (PE)
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
If you are struggling with symptoms of PTSD, you need one of these treatments.
Prolonged Exposure is a very effective treatment for PTSD, and is my personal treatment of choice. PE involves revisiting the traumatic experience in a safe and supportive environment so that you can finally emotionally process the trauma. This revisiting happens in a therapeutic manner designed to help you heal. Conversations including discussing your perspectives about the trauma and considering new meaning that comes through revisiting the memory. Over time, when the trauma is processed enough, the memories don’t “burn to the touch” as much, so to speak. That can often lead to profound shifts in the way you feel on a day-to-day basis. PE usually takes 10-16 sessions or so.
Cognitive Processing Therapy is another evidence-based treatment for PTSD. CPT focuses much more on your thinking about the trauma. Through CPT, you will primarily discuss the meaning you have taken from the traumatic experience. Your therapist will help you think through different “stuck points” in your thinking about the event(s). Then, they will teach you skills to help you think through these “stuck points” on your own in the future. CPT generally takes around 12 sessions.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is evidence-based for PTSD, is extremely popular among therapists in many communities, and is highly controversial among trauma researchers. This treatment involves revisiting the traumatic memory while engaging in back-and-forth eye movements. It may involve another form of bilateral stimulation (such as an alternating buzzer in each hand).
Also, lots of people are doing EMDR who aren’t well-trained in PTSD more generally. Its explosion in popularity has made it hard to know if you’re actually getting good care. EMDR should also only take around 6-12 sessions. Many therapists will “weave EMDR in” to a much longer course of treatment, which is not usually necessary. That said, EMDR should work – and it’s usually fairly easy to find a therapist trained in it!