"Maybe it's time for you to get some help." Real talk: there is no phrase that packs more oof per square inch than that one. Even when it's well meaning, it can feel like a gut punch - because we already know we need help.
PTSD is one of those secrets that does not keep well. Even when we don't have a name for it, we know that something is off. Maybe we're getting angry unexpectedly, drinking more, having nightmares, or feeling jumpy. We start to push our loved ones away or self-isolate because we don't want to worry anyone, but the truth is that everybody knows something is up and they are worried. But they don't talk about it. And we don't talk about it. And we all just pretend that it is not a thing. But, it is.
So when our loved ones finally get up the gumption to suggest that it is time to get some help, it can sting. Especially when "getting some help" means seeing a therapist.
A therapist. (Insert more oof * here *)
Yes, I know the stereotypes: lying on a couch talking endlessly about your mother, a bespectacled guru encouraging you to heal your inner child, or looking at ink blot after ink blot but all of them just look like your parents fighting. Friend, I hear you, and I know that you would rather go it alone than relive your trauma with a stranger who spent decades in college. So how can we get the help we need to no-shit reclaim our lives from PTSD without having to sift through this horseshit? I'm so glad you asked!
First things first: there are a lot of therapists out there who haven't jumped head-first into the woo-woo vortex, and I'm here to help you find them. Not all therapists are touchy-feely or use crystals or give two shits about your mommy-issues, and these are usually certified trauma therapists.
Trauma therapists specialize in PTSD and use specific Evidence-Based Treatments (EBTs) to treat PTSD. As of this writing, there are three EBTs for PTSD that are approved by the VA:
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy
- Cognitive Processing Therapy
- Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
Because these EBTs are endorsed by the VA, they tend to be widely available in Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs), VA clinics, and with therapists in private practice – so I encourage you to ask for these EBTs by name and be insistent. There is no sense in working with a therapist who is not specifically trained in how to treat PTSD; it’s a waste of time and leads to even more frustration.
Moreover, the data are clear: EBTs work most of the time for most people, and they do so in 6-12 sessions. No lying on the couch for years on end; you can knock this out in a couple months and get on with your life. Or we can continue to go it alone.
To quote Albert Einstein, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." The fastest way to reclaim our lives is to reach out and get an objective, third-person perspective. Did I mention that it's only 6-12 sessions? This is not forever, friend; time to suck it up.
To find a trauma specialist, we can get help from Military One Source, look up providers on our health insurer’s website, or use our company’s employee assistance program, or EAP. We can also find therapists on the internet by searching by the name of the evidence-based treatment and with our zip code (for example, “EMDR therapist Tampa 33607”). Psychology Today has a helpful database.
Once we find a therapist, we can call and request a phone consultation with them. Keep in mind that we may call and leave messages with several providers but only hear back from a few. (Therapists can be crappy this way.)
During the phone consult:
- Briefly explain why we are seeking therapy
- Ask what experience they have treating clients like us
- Ask if they are trained in Evidence-Based Treatments for PTSD
This may sound like, “I was in the military and experienced some bad stuff during a deployment to Afghanistan. What experience do you have helping Soldiers like me? What kind of treatment do you use for PTSD?” If the therapist does not have training in an Evidence-Based Treatment for PTSD, ask them if they can recommend someone who does.
Therapists tend to specialize in specific treatment methods or specific client populations. For example, I focus on combat-related PTSD and Moral Injury; I’m pretty much a one-trick pony. I can do other things, but it’s not what I’m best at. I have amazing colleagues who specialize in eating disorders, adolescent-issues, depression, anxiety, and all manner of mental health issues, and if you come into my office with an experience that is better addressed with one of my colleagues, I will send you to them.
Don't be afraid to ask about style, either. This may sound like, "I want to work with someone who is straight-forward and direct," or "I'd prefer to work with a Veteran." You may not get what you ask for, but therapists tend to hang out with other therapists and are connected into the community. Let us help you find the right person for you.
Another Einstein quote: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Going it alone just doesn't work. Now I hope you have more tools than when you started.