Psychotherapy will not make you forget what has happened to you but aims rather to help you to live with your experiences.
All psychotherapies have shown at least some effectiveness. In choosing between them the most important factor is to find one that suits your needs. You must feel at ease with your therapist and be able to establish a trusting working relationship with them (Summers & Barber, 2003; Martin, Garske, Davis, 2000).
Click on the following items to learn more about the main types of psychotherapy.
Cognitive behavioural therapies
Cognitive-behavioural therapies work on the relationship between anxiety responses and the things which trigger them (places, memories, objects, for example).
Patients generally try to avoid anything which serves to remind them of the traumatic event because this is too painful. Places, memories, or objects can lose their neutrality and trigger acute anxiety. This type of therapy aims to help patients reduce their anxiety and their avoidance of its triggers (Bisson & Andrew, 2005). The psychotherapist uses a variety of techniques to do this (exposure, cognitive restructuring, relaxation, psychoeducation). Cognitive and behavioural therapies generally last for 10 to 25 sessions.
Antidepressants (SSRIs) are the primary drug-based treatment offered to trauma victims (American Psychiatric Association, 2004; Marshall et al., 2001; Tucker et al., 2001). They can help to reduce the intensity of symptoms of post-traumatic stress in addition to commonly associated symptoms, such as depression. These medications should be taken only on the advice of a doctor; do not be tempted to self-medicate. Other types of medication may be appropriate for you. An SSRI-based treatment ranges from 6 months to 2 years (sometimes longer, based on the intensity of the symptoms).
EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
This technique involves the patient working with a therapist to talk about the trauma while making side-to-side movements with their eyes. The patient’s intense feelings of anxiety when thinking about the traumatic event should gradually subside. According to several studies, it is not necessarily the use of eye movement that makes this treatment effective (Lytle et al., 2002). Nevertheless, this form of therapy does have a proven effect in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (Edmond & Rubin, 2002).
The self-help group meeting is a form of therapy where people who have undergone the same kind of trauma meet to talk about their experiences or simply to listen to others. This helps individuals to not feel alone, to speak about what they have been through, and to give and receive support. Self-help groups should be facilitated by someone with appropriate training. Group therapy may last anywhere from 10 sessions to meeting indefinitely.
Psychonalysis is based on free association. The psychoanalyst encourages the patient to talk about whatever comes to mind, regardless of whether or not it relates to the traumatic event. The patient’s discourse will often reveal resistance that has its origins in their own unconscious. Finding out the causes of this unconscious resistance will cause it to diminish. The patient and therapist thus work on the meaning of the symptoms in the context of the patient’s life story.
There has been little research into the effectiveness of psychoanalysis. Therapy may last several years.
Brief psychodynamic therapy
Psychodynamic therapy is inspired by psychoanalysis but does not use the same methods. There is no couch, for example, and the patient sits face to face with their psychotherapist. It is also more centred on the patient’s suffering; psychotherapy focuses on the effect that the traumatic event has had on the person’s life. A variety of subjects, such as dreams, are explored. This type of therapy may last between 10 sessions and several months.