How Many Therapy Sessions Are Needed for PTSD?

When you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can feel like you'll never get your life back. Fortunately, short-term and long-term psychotherapy and medications can work very well. Often, the two types of treatment are most effective together. Most therapies for PTSD are included in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The idea is to change the thought patterns that disrupt your life. This can happen by talking about your trauma or focusing on the source of your fears. Sessions are usually scheduled once a week. Each of the 16 sessions has a specific objective.

Depending on your situation, group or family therapy may be a good option for you instead of individual sessions. At first, you'll talk about the traumatic event with your therapist and how your thoughts related to it have affected your life. In another session, you'll tell your therapist about the traumatic experience, then you'll go home and listen to a recording of your own. EMDR is an individual therapy that is normally given once or twice a week for an average of 6 to 12 sessions, although some people benefit from fewer sessions and others from more.

At the beginning of treatment, the therapist will teach you breathing techniques to ease anxiety when you think about what happened. A potential advantage of non-trauma-focused treatments is that dropout rates are often lower than those of trauma-focused therapies that are highly recommended. While evidence supports the use of trauma-focused psychotherapies for the treatment of PTSD, access to these treatments is not uniform across clinics. Individual trauma-focused psychotherapies may not be available in all settings and that not all patients may choose to participate in these treatments.

In general, individual trauma-focused psychotherapies, such as physical education, CPT, and EMDR, are the most recommended treatments for PTSD and have a strong evidence base. SIT, PCT and IPT are non-trauma-focused therapies and most of the evidence is derived from clinical trials that have involved direct comparisons with highly recommended trauma-focused therapies. There are other psychotherapies that meet the definition of trauma-focused treatment for which there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend their use or against.

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