Talk Therapy & PTSD

by Suzanne Grosser

Talking about your trauma is good therapy – in the right setting. If you have post traumatic stress disorder, talking to someone about what happened can be the first step to healing, You can talk one on one with a psychiatrist, or take the whole family to a psychologist, or you could participate in a support group, or just tell a trusted friend or spiritual counselor. So many choices. I’ll try to help by giving you the quick tour of what’s available.

The most commonly know type of talk therapy is one on one with a counselor. The goal is to eliminate the patient’s symptoms by uncovering the hidden feelings that cause those symptoms.

The counselor can be a psychiatrist who is a medical doctor and can prescribe you medication. This is good if it saves you multiple doctor appointments, but psychiatrists often require a referral from your general practitioner, they are generally the most expensive type of counselor (they have med school bills to pay), and there are long waiting lists for appointments.

A psychologist may or may not have earned a PhD and may be called “doctor” but is not a medical doctor. They are specifically trained to do counseling. They often have specific areas of interest such as family problems or trauma victims and they are easily accessible.

Then there are peer counselors, commonly used in cases of rape and domestic violence. Most organizations require their peer counselors to undergo specialized training They are usually volunteers. Frequently, they have been victims of these crimes, or have a loved one who was victimized. When they say they know how you feel, they mean it.

You might choose a spiritual counselors such as a priest, minister or rabbi. They can console you with talk of God and rewards of an afterlife, unlike the secular counselor. My husband was helped greatly by talking with his parish priest. A friend’s husband, back from Afghanistan, saved his marriage through counseling sessions with their minister. But I must add a word of caution: some religious counselors are rigid and judgmental. You do not need that.

Then there is your best friend who will listen to you yammer on about how your life sucks. If this best friend is your dog,

you don’t have to worry about being judged or criticized. But you won’t get a lot a of verbal reassurance either. If this friend is a person, they might not be able to handle everything you need to talk about. Therapists expect to hear awful things and they have their own therapists to talk to about hearing so many awful things. I love my husband, but I was overwhelmed by the horrors he tried to share with me. If you have a friend who will listen, be alert for signs that they can’t hear anymore. Be grateful for their love and understanding, but don’t ask more of them than they are capable of giving. Odd as it sounds, some things are easier to share with a stranger.

Which leads me to what I think is the best thing about individual therapy. It gives you a safe place to talk about your trauma. (Other than with your dog.) You only have to tell one person at a time. Just saying the words “I was raped” is a relief. Saying it and not being contradicted or criticized is positively uplifting. A therapist can reassure you that your reactions are normal and can offer information that may help you rethink your experience. But a good therapist will never tell you how you should feel.

It is crucial in this type of therapy that there is a compatibility between patient and therapist. If you walk in and the counselor looks exactly like your nasty Aunt Matilda, you might as well tell her that right off. You might be able to laugh about it together and then you’ll realize that she is nothing like Aunt Matilda. Then again, you might decide you won’t ever get past that negative image and you’ll have to find another therapist – she’ll understand.

There are many treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One on one talk is only one option. There are group talk options as well: check out Group Talk. There are treatments that combine talking about your trauma with specific active therapies to speed recovery: check out Talk Therapy Plus. Whatever treatments you choose, healing is always up to you.

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