Getting help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Getting help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Getting help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 1200 900 Team Mindsum
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Last updated: 4 January 2021

This article covers:

– What types of therapies are involved?

– What types of professionals are involved?

– The journey of recovery from PTSD

What types of therapies are involved?

Trauma-focused psychological therapies are important when treating PTSD. This can really help the child or young person to recover from the disorder. These therapies include trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. These will be discussed below.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT)
TF-CBT is a type of talk-therapy that focuses on how we think and act towards traumatic memories and how this affects the way we feel. Research shows that it is an effective treatment for trauma in children and young people.

The idea behind TF-CBT is to help people to change the way they think about past traumatic events and to respond to these memories differently.

The child or young person will learn to process certain memories, manage flashbacks, cope with anxiety and work with personal meaning related to the trauma.

In the case of complex PTSD, this process might take longer to achieve. The therapist will also help the child or young person to deal with other issues that may be a barrier to improvement.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing  (EMDR)
This is a specialized therapy that helps people to process and make sense of traumatic memories. It is appropriate for children from the age of 7 years or older and when TF-CBT has not been effective. Research shows that EMDR is an effective treatment for trauma in children and young people.

The idea behind this is that a lot of traumatic memories are not fully processed. Therefore it is helpful for the person to process these painful memories in a controlled way, that allows them to come to terms with the event.

The therapist will engage the child or young person to perform eye movements, tones and taps that allows them to think about painful memories in small chunks at a time. What they think and feel during these exercises might then be discussed with the therapist.

Eventually, the child or young person will have processed all parts of the traumatic event and this will help them to recover from the symptoms of PTSD.

What types of professionals are involved?

There are different professionals that may or may not be involved throughout the treatment process of PTSD for children and young people. These might include counsellors, psychotherapists, doctors/psychiatrist and social workers. These terms might be confusing, but the main difference is in the training that each of these professionals have received. 

In the UK, there is not much of a distinction made between counsellor or psychotherapist. Both of these professionals provide therapy. However, there are some slight differences between these two professional terms. These are outlined below.

Counsellors: Compared to psychotherapists, counsellors tend to have had a shorter training and they help people deal with their issues on a more short-term basis. There may be school-based counsellors available that children and young people can approach at their own school. Here at Mindsum, we have counsellors that are available to provide support.

Psychotherapists: Psychotherapy training tends to be longer. Psychotherapists can also give counselling but their approach to talk therapy is more in-depth, exploring the history and causes of certain behaviours and emotional issues. The psychotherapist will then treat PTSD in this specialized way. Here at Mindsum, we have psychotherapists that are available to provide support.

It doesn’t mean that one professional is better than the other. All professionals in this field go through intensive training before they begin to practice. In fact, when dealing with PTSD, counsellors and psychotherapists with experience in working with PTSD will likely be the ones to provide support.

There are also doctors and psychiatrists that can be involved. There are more obvious differences between these two professional terms.

Doctors: These are professionals that are trained in medicine. This will likely be the family GP, who might find it necessary to prescribe certain medications for other conditions. Medication is not usually prescribed for PTSD in children and young people.

Psychiatrists: These are professionals that are also trained in medicine. However, they also specialized in the field of psychiatry. So they are able to provide consultation and medication for a wide range of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar affective disorder and so on.

Social workers: Workers trained in protecting vulnerable individuals might also be involved with the child or young person, especially in trauma cases such as domestic violence, neglect and child abuse. Social workers will provide support or will help to make arrangements for support. They will work to ensure the safety and well-being of the child or young person.

The journey of recovery from PTSD

The journey of recovery from PTSD can look different for each child or young person. This also depends on the complexity of the PTSD. But there are some things that are expected when going through therapy for PTSD.

Assessment
This is an important phase, where the counsellor or psychotherapist will get a feel of what is going. The therapist might try to identify the severity of the PTSD, along with other important background information. At this stage, the therapist will need to ask many questions. This will help to create a full picture of what is going on and to know what type of treatment will be most helpful. 

Therapy sessions
These sessions will take place with a time and regularity that suits the child or young person and their parents. An important aspect of the therapy session is the relationship that the counsellor or psychotherapist will build with the child or young person. This will create a safe space that will encourage them to talk about their feelings and engage fully in the exercises. In cases of more complex trauma, therapy may take a long time before improvements can be made. 

Progress and setbacks
When having treatment for PTSD, there will be progress and setbacks. This is because the child or young person will be learning to cope with very sensitive and painful memories, which are often disturbing. It is important not to feel discouraged when setbacks happen, as this can be quite normal when dealing with PTSD or any type of serious mental health difficulties. These situations provide opportunities to discover new ways to move forward together with the therapist.

Ending therapy
The counsellor or psychotherapist will eventually prepare the child or young person and their parents for the end of therapy. This is a very important phase, because it is vital for the child or young person to become confident in coping without relying too much on the professional. The end of therapy will take place once the child or young person has made a lot of progress or has completely recovered from PTSD. The child or young person will leave therapy with many skills that they can use without the help of the therapist.

Follow up
There might be an agreement with the counsellor or psychotherapist to have a follow-up meeting. This is to check how the child or young person is coping. If they are doing well, there will be no need for more support. But if they continue to have challenges with PTSD or any other issues, this will be an opportunity to have extra support.  

List of useful resources

Post-traumatic stress disorder
To read our information on PTSD, you can click here to access the link.

What to expect in counselling for trauma
The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful article on what to expect when getting counselling for trauma. To read more, you can click here to access the link.

Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy
The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful document on different aspects of therapy. To read more, you can click here to access the link.

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