Existential, Behavioral, and Other Treatments for PTSD

Q: Can you tell me your view of the advantages and limitations of using existential therapy for post traumatic stress clients? Other than Behavior Therapy, what other approaches would you supplement with and why?

Reader’s Question

Can you tell me your view of the advantages and limitations of using existential therapy for post traumatic stress clients? Other than Behavior Therapy, what other approaches would you supplement with and why?

Thanks so much for your viewpoint.

Psychologist’s Reply

There are a variety of treatment options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) clients. In response to your question, Existential Therapy helps patients learn to be anxious as part of their life, but to be anxious in the right way. ET takes a global view of the person and his/her issues. The limitations of this approach, in my opinion, stem from using such a wide-view approach on a clinical condition which by definition is dramatically based on a traumatic event. It’s like discussing a house when we need to fix the lock on the door.

Cognitive/Behavioral approaches have been widely researched in PTSD. There are other approaches as well. Science now has an understanding of how PTSD develops from a neurological and memory standpoint. I’ve attempted to combine this understanding with cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques in my article on Emotional Memory — available on this website. As an illustration, when we write and edit/change an email, we can see the results on the screen. On a surface level, our editing, like therapy, attempts to change the surface behaviors or symptoms of our emails. At a deeper level, changing an email also changes the “machine code” or programming code of that email and the email program. With sophisticated programs we can actually see the changes in the “machine code” or programming language. Thus, those same changes we made in the email program can also be made by going to the machine code and changing the code or the way the program works. Emotional Memory is a technique to address PTSD and trauma memory by understanding how the “machine code” works, allowing us to make changes despite the content of the memory. Emotionally traumatic memories are treated by removing the “emotional” part of the trauma memory.

Other treatment approaches have combined psychotherapy with medications. The medications work to reduce the anxiety and agitation created by the traumatic recollection common in PTSD.

Hope these observations are helpful.

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