4 Types of Psychotherapy for PTSD

Keegan Warrington
May 9, 2022

Living with posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD is like reliving the bad memories you don’t want to remember. Flashbacks and intense thoughts of a traumatic event paralyze you until you can’t function for the day, leading to loss of productivity at work or poor relationships with people around you.

Psychotherapy or talk therapy is one of the most recommended treatments for people with PTSD. With this therapy, patients have been able to reclaim their lives and take control of their emotions. More importantly, they learn how to control negative experiences and develop a way to keep them at bay.

Here’s what you need to know about psychotherapy and the different techniques used for PTSD.

What Is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a mental health treatment that aims to help people eliminate, control, and cope with the symptoms of mental health illnesses. The ultimate goal here is to restore the patient’s quality of life, promote mental and psychological healing, and enhance the patient’s ability to cope with their illnesses.

People with PTSD can enter psychotherapy upon the recommendation of mental health professional. Initially, the doctor must first examine the patient by

  • Performing a physical exam: It is common for patients suffering from chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, asthma, or diabetes to develop PTSD. Trauma may arise from negative experiences stemming from these diseases.
  • Conducting a psychological evaluation: The psychiatrist will conduct a psychological triage and assessment before recommending a treatment plan for you. A psychological triage aims to determine the immediate risk factors of the patient, such as the risk of harming oneself. On the other hand, a psychological evaluation is a more formal assessment of the patient’s symptoms.
  • Checking PTSD criteria under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5): The DSM-5 manual enumerates the signs of PTSD in a patient. These signs are: (1) direct experience of a traumatic event, (2) witness to a traumatic event affecting others, (3) knowledge of a traumatic event affecting others, (4) repeated exposure to a traumatic event (e.g., a first responder to a crime scene).

If everything ticks in the DSM-5 and your symptoms match with the common PTSD symptoms, the mental health professional will most likely prescribe psychotherapy to you unless a different kind of treatment is more appropriate.

What Are The Types Of Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a broad discipline of mental health treatments. It is an umbrella term for different kinds of treatments that use different techniques to address the patient’s problems. General types of psychotherapy used today include:


Coined by Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis is one of the foundations of modern-day psychotherapy. Though today’s methods are far from the methods used by Freud, the principle of psychoanalysis emphasizes the “unconscious mental processes” that affect a person’s “conscious” mind.

In psychoanalysis, Freud believed that negative experiences are frequently repressed, and sometimes, patients repressed these memories unconsciously. That’s why psychoanalysis focuses on the free association of ideas so that the psychiatrist can pinpoint signs of repressed emotions and memories to uncover them.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) focuses on regulating and labeling emotion healthily. DBT teaches patients skills that can help them control bursts of negative emotions. Initially, DBT was developed to treat people with a borderline personality disorder. However, advancing studies have led DBT to different areas of mental health treatments like psychotherapy for PTSD patients.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

types of psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment that links thoughts (cognition) with actions (behavior). CBT principles believe that our actions are sometimes predicated on our thoughts. In CBT, the psychiatrist’s goal is to help the patient overcome unhealthy patterns of thinking that often lead to negative actions.

Once the patient learns healthy ways of thinking, it can result in positive actions that improve their quality of life. CBT is also used in children with tantrums and sleep difficulties.

Humanistic Therapy

Also called experiential therapy, humanistic therapy focuses on the self rather than on the patient’s behaviors. It’s a holistic approach directed at self-actualization goals and reaching one’s full potential.

Common Psychotherapy Techniques For PTSD

Psychotherapy uses different kinds of techniques to help the patient cope with PTSD. These techniques are part of the treatment plan, and they may vary depending on the prescription.

Here are the four common methods used for PTSD:

1. Stress Inoculation Training

This technique involves less talk but more stress management activities like breathing and mindfulness exercises. Stress training equips you with the necessary weapons to combat sudden surges of PTSD in the future.

2. Exposure Therapy

Avoiding or ignoring a traumatic event only increases the trauma in PTSD. In exposure therapy, the therapist will guide you as you expose yourself to the traumatic event through recounting of events. But this time, you’ll learn how to withstand PTSD attacks through breathing exercises that can reduce anxiety and stress. As you progress, you’ll develop ways to deal with things you’ve been avoiding.

3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a structured program that focuses on traumatic memory and associates it with eye movements. Aside from eye movements, EMDR also checks for bilateral movements resulting from taps or tones while recalling a traumatic memory.

4. Cognitive Processing Training

what is psychotherapy

During CPT, you’ll talk about the traumatic event with your therapist. Talking about this event involves recounting what happened, but it must also include your thoughts and emotions about the event. Then, once the therapist has enough information, they’ll help you develop thinking skills that will lessen the debilitating effects of the traumatic event.

Often, you’ll be required to write your experiences to recognize your thoughts as you write them consciously.


Psychotherapy is one of the leading treatments for PTSD. It employs different techniques to help patients recover from traumatic events and develop healthy ways of thinking to reduce incapacitating actions.

Are you struggling with PTSD symptoms? The journey to recovery starts with a simple call. Contact us now at (562) 488-4593 and let our clinicians work with you in finding the best treatment.

Keegan Warrington