What Should I Look for in a PTSD Counselor?

PTSD is a complex condition, and its symptoms can manifest in a number of different ways, depending on the individual and type of trauma experienced. For that reason, successful treatment is highly personalized.

What works for one trauma survivor may trigger another, and the healing process often involves a significant amount of trial and error. Many people who suffer from PTSD try out several different forms of therapy, often used in tandem with medication, in order to find what works.

When you’ve decided to seek professional help for PTSD, the options may seem overwhelming, leading you to abandon the search altogether. But, no matter if the root cause of your PTSD is active combat, domestic abuse, bullying, a hate crime, or another form of trauma, you’re tougher than your symptoms and shouldn’t give up the search.

The following information was put together to serve as a helpful guide for people with PTSD so that you can better understand the distinctions among professional counseling titles. You’ll also learn about specific credentials to look for in a counselor, which typically hinge on your therapy goals and ideal treatment plan.


Types of PTSD Counselors and Therapists

There are plenty of people in your life who want to help alleviate your PTSD symptoms, including family members, church officials, and well-intentioned friends. But the meat and bones of PTSD survival and healing tactics stem from a professional who holds some type of certification and has experience in trauma counseling. Here’s the breakdown of the most common titles you may come across in your search for the right counselor.


Clinical Psychologists

A clinical psychologist is a medical professional who has received a doctoral degree in counseling or clinical psychology. Although they may go by the moniker of “doctor,” a clinical psychologist cannot prescribe medications. They are, however, some of the most highly trained in their field since they must complete at least four years of graduate training and a further 1-2 years of clinical experience in order to earn their license.


Master’s Level Clinicians

A Master’s level clinician holds an advanced degree from an accredited university as well as state-based certification. A clinician may be highly specialized in a particular therapy type, such as yoga and meditation, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), or art therapy. Many of those living with PTSD find numerous benefits in the alternative therapy options provided by MLCs, as they can help your mind focus on positive thoughts rather than deep-rooted trauma.


Clinical Social Workers

Rather than providing therapy, clinical social workers primarily focus on finding community-based service and resource referrals for their clients. For their clients living with PTSD, they may recommend support groups for survivors of domestic violence or organizations dedicated to finding jobs for veterans.

While they may have a similar educational background as that of a master’s level clinician, the duty of a CSW is to assist clients with their basic human needs. They may also be able to assist with housing referrals, provide a list of local food banks, or recommend clinicians and counselors who provide PTSD treatment services on a sliding fee scale.


Psychiatrists and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

While the previous entries are trained and certified professionals committed to providing exceptional care, they cannot prescribe medication. If you feel that the severity of your PTSD symptoms warrants the use of prescription drugs, you will need to seek out a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner, both of which are qualified to prescribe medication.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are commonly prescribed to those with PTSD, and sometimes finding the right medications and/or dosage can be a lengthy process. Note that your medical-based PTSD treatment can work in tandem with counseling sessions to help you cultivate positive coping skills as you go about your daily life.

Therapy and Healing for Those with PTSD  

Ultimately, finding a counselor is an extremely personal endeavor that hinges on a variety of factors, from your ability to function in society to the extent of your functional impairments and/or trauma-related distress. By understanding the types of therapists you may come across in your research, you’ll be better equipped to find a compatible practitioner who can lead you towards PTSD symptom relief.

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Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and wilderness enthusiast. When she's not writing, she can usually be found zipping around the mountains on her ATV.

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