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How to find a PTSD therapist

A cognac-colored leather couch, bathed in sunlight shining through the window of a trauma therapist's office.

If you’re ready to heal, it should be easy to get started. But finding a trauma therapist can sometimes feel a lot harder than it needs to be.

In truth, the first step to finding a therapist can be as simple as a few clicks to schedule a consultation with a therapist that feels promising.

And in reality, taking that step sometimes comes with very intimidating obstacles, like being unsure about the cost of therapy, or where to find a trauma therapist.

Everybody deserves to heal. You deserve to heal. If you’re feeling ready for help, but unsure how to find care, press on with your search. Finding a therapist is worth it, and may be more doable than you think.

If you’re in a crisis that feels too big or urgent to endure on your own, call or text 988 (US only). Find a hotline in your country →

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a diagnosis — a tool for seeking the resources you need to thrive — but it’s not required when seeking out care, and a clinician can help you arrive at what diagnoses feel supportive to you.

For many of us who have experienced trauma, an unfortunate barrier to finding care is not even being sure if those experiences “count” as trauma. You don’t need to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in order to find or benefit from a trauma therapist, though.

While there is ongoing conversation about what constitutes “trauma,” what matters most is how you were impacted. If an event or relationship has caused you prolonged distress, it’s worth reaching out to a trauma-informed therapist for support.

Phrases like PTSD, C-PTSD or complex PTSD, trauma-informed, and trauma can be useful search terms if you are looking for help healing from difficult experiences, without having to qualify your experiences as “traumatic enough.”

Definition of PTSD

The strictest definition of PTSD can be found in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM):

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, series of events or set of circumstances.

American Psychiatric Association

The criteria for diagnosing PTSD gets even more specific, qualifying a traumatic event as something that is life-threatening or extremely distressing, experienced firsthand.

When you’re looking for a therapist, it doesn’t matter so much whether you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD by a clinician or yourself. Whoever you choose as your therapist can help you explore if a diagnosis would support your recovery.

Definition of Complex PTSD

The primary difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD is that PTSD focuses on more acute, singular events (like a natural disaster or assault), whereas C-PTSD focuses on prolonged forms of harm, especially those that happen in the context of abuse, neglect, and violence.

In the behavioral health field, there is a fair amount of debate around how PTSD and trauma are defined.

One major criticism is that the diagnostic criteria is too narrow, excluding impactful and repeated experiences of harm in relationships, especially where power imbalances exist. This can include interpersonal harm, between individuals, or between individuals and systems, like systemic racism.

In response, many have described a related experience of Complex PTSD, or C-PTSD, which is defined by trauma therapist and survivor Pete Walker as a form of PTSD “delineated by emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, self-abandonment, a vicious inner critic, and social anxiety.”

I once heard renowned traumatologist, John Brier, quip that if C-PTSD were ever given its due, the DSM used by all mental health professionals would shrink from its dictionary-like size to the size of a thin pamphlet.

Pete Walker, Psychotherapy

This more inclusive definition of complex trauma can be another tool to empower your search for a therapist that specializes in C-PTSD.

Counseling, therapy, and treatments for PTSD

There are thousands of therapists who specialize in trauma, but each of them might go about it a different way. How do you know which one is the right fit for you?

Getting familiar with the different approaches to trauma therapy might help you find a therapist who specializes in the kind of work you want to be doing.

If there’s a modality that piques your interest, look for therapists with experience in that approach.

If you’re not sure what’s right for you, that’s okay too! You can schedule free 15-minute consultations with available therapists, where you can ask them more about their approach to see if they’re a good fit.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for trauma

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common standard for therapy rooted in a rich body of evidence-based research. Broadly, CBT is about working with your therapist to identify unhelpful patterns of thinking and connected behaviors that aren’t supportive of our well-being, and then building skills to challenge or redirect those patterns.

Some forms of CBT may not be appropriate for trauma survivors. If you’re exploring CBT in the context of trauma, be sure to ask your provider how their application of CBT is trauma-informed.

Prolonged exposure therapy

Prolonged exposure is a form of CBT that the APA strongly recommends for the treatment of acute PTSD. In the safety of your therapeutic relationship with a clinician, you gradually build your capacity to hold emotions and memories related to past traumas.

This can include exposure by describing aspects of the trauma and processing emotions as they arise, and/or engaging with reminders of the trauma (like specific places or people) with a therapist’s guidance.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

In EMDR, your therapist guides you to revisit traumatic experiences in short bursts. This is paired simultaneously with an external stimulus, commonly to cause rapid eye movement, in order to neurologically restructure your relationship with these memories.

Narrative and cognitive processing therapies

Some modalities focus on the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Narrative therapy can help survivors make sense of their life narrative through the lens of trauma and healing; cognitive processing can be useful in unpacking beliefs that stem from traumatic experiences.

Safe & Sound Protocol (SSP)

An emerging approach to working with trauma is the Safe & Sound Protocol (SSP), a facilitated sound-based therapy that aims to deepen safety and regulation at a neurological level. SSP was developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, who famously pioneered the Polyvagal Theory to describe the role our nervous system plays in regulating our emotions and behaviors.

Somatic therapies

Traditional talk therapy (like CBT) tend to take a “top-down” approach, bringing your emotional experiences into greater clarity by applying logic and reason.

It’s possible to take a “bottom-up” approach, too, where the work done in therapy is more about helping the body heal and feel safe.

Somatic therapy repairs the mind-body connection for less intense emotional processing.

Alexis Fintchre, Psychotherapy, LCMHC

Finding the right therapist for you

When you’re ready to find a trauma therapist, you can browse Alma’s directory of over 20,000 licensed clinicians.

You can get a head start on finding the right therapist by taking the time to think about what you’re looking for.

What should I look for in a PTSD therapist?

A few questions can help you reflect on what matters most to you when it comes to your future therapist:

  • Does it matter that they share your identity? (Gender, orientation, race, religion, etc.)
  • Is there a particular modality you’re interested in?
  • What qualities would make you feel more comfortable in sessions (e.g. gentle, funny, analytical, logical)?
  • Are there any other areas of expertise, like grief or anxiety, that would also be helpful?

Ultimately, finding a trauma therapist who is the right fit for you is the best thing you can do to set yourself up for a great experience of therapy.

Is it important to find a therapist near me?

A question worth special consideration when finding a trauma therapist is whether you prefer in-person therapy, telehealth, or a combination.

If you’d be more comfortable having sessions “in the room” with your therapist, you may want to filter your search to find a therapist near you. This kind of in-person work may be particularly important for the therapeutic style or approach that your therapist takes.

You may just as well feel more comfortable working with your therapist remotely. Teletherapy tends to be more convenient, too! Virtual visits are particularly well-suited to talk therapy and modalities like CBT. Nearly all therapeutic approaches can be successfully adapted for a virtual setting, which you can discuss with potential therapists over 15-minute consultation calls.

Does my insurance cover therapy for PTSD?

Cost is a common barrier that can come up when looking for a therapist. A trauma counselor can cost anywhere from $0 to a few hundred dollars per session.

Getting the care you deserve doesn’t necessarily require you to pay out of pocket. A great starting point for finding an affordable trauma therapist is to check your insurance coverage.

Then, as you schedule initial consultations with prospective therapists, you can have an informed conversation about their rates, your coverage, and — if you do have to pay for some of the cost — how much you can afford.

When you’re ready, heal.

If you’re reading these words, you probably found your way here because you have an interest in healing. Listen to that.

Everybody deserves to heal. And, when you’re ready, you can take the first step by finding a trauma therapist that feels like a fit.

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A headshot of Kevin Doherty, content marketer at Alma.
Kevin Doherty

About the Author

Kevin Doherty is a marketer and storyteller at Alma, an online platform that aims to simplify access to high-quality, equitable, and affordable mental health care. An alumnus of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television, Kevin specializes in bringing powerful entertainment principles into everyday, real-life communication.

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