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What Happens at a PTSD Clinic?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a collection of symptoms that a person who has undergone extreme stress can suffer from. Possible treatments for the condition include medication, but as this condition is a result of psychological problems, a PTSD clinic typically treats the person with psychological techniques. Clinics can be places where the person visits regularly, or they can be residential. As individual cases can vary in symptoms, different types of treatment, from cognitive behavioral therapy, to exposure therapy, may be offered at a PTSD clinic. Some treatments are in a group setting, and others may be in private sessions with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Possible symptoms of this condition include nightmares, patterns of reliving the traumatic event, and abnormal emotional responses to situations. Typically, in a PTSD clinic, one of the foundation components of the treatment is for a patient to tell the story of the stressful situation that provoked the condition. The rationale behind this is that the affected person, and his or her psychiatrist or psychologist can gain a greater understanding of the causes of the PTSD, and the psychological responses to the stress that create the symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an extension of this section of the PTSD clinic treatment, as it focuses on the patient's responses to stress. Once the patient knows what his or her reactions are to problems in life after the trauma, then these patterns of thinking may be alterable. Although a PTSD clinic patient may receive this type of psychological treatment by itself, he or she may also receive a different treatment, called exposure therapy, or prolonged exposure therapy, as well.

Exposure therapy involves the patient undergoing an approximation of the same traumatic situation that caused the PTSD in the first place. It can also include exposure to other situations that provoke a stressful response in the person's life. Some clinics, such as military veteran's healthcare clinics, have access to virtual reality equipment that can give the patient a good sense of reliving the sounds and sights of the environment where the traumatic event took place. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a similar treatment but teaches special eye movements in response to the bad memories of the trauma.

A PTSD clinic may be residential, and the patient stays overnight for a few weeks to a few months, or it can be a place where the person visits maybe twice a week for a few months. Each session lasts from about 30 minutes up to a few hours, depending on the type of treatment and the clinic itself. Depending on what the individual needs, the sessions can be just the patient and the psychologist or psychiatrist, or they may be in a group setting.

The individual may not need to go into detail about the trauma that he or she suffered in the group setting. Often, as part of the treatment, a person must take notes and be aware of the stresses facing him or her in everyday life, and the abnormal emotional responses that he or she produces in response to everyday problems. A person undergoing treatment at a PTSD clinic can also opt for additional sessions, which deal with specific problem areas, from substance abuse to interpersonal relationships.

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