5 Mistakes A Therapist May Make When Treating Clients With PTSD

Therapy for PTSD

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health condition that may develop in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a very frightening or stressful event. A person with PTSD may have symptoms such as flashbacks of the traumatic event, severe mood swings, avoid people or places that are related to the event, angry outbursts, and self-destructive behavior. Treatment for PTSD aims to reduce these and other physical and emotional symptoms so that the affected individual can function better on a daily basis. Common treatments may include cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, neurological therapies, and medication.

While therapists can help treat PTSD, it is possible for a trained therapist to make mistakes when working with an affected person in therapy. Here are five mistakes a therapist may make when treating an individual with PTSD.

1. Misdiagnosis

Since most mental health professionals use the best guess principle to reach a diagnosis, PTSD can be misdiagnosed. A few of the mental health conditions that may be confused with PTSD include acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, brief psychotic disorder, depress-based disorders or depression, bipolar, attention deficit disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. PTSD may be misdiagnosed for various reasons, such as a therapist’s inexperience in treating the condition or overlap of symptoms that are also associated with other mental health issues. In some cases, an inexperienced therapist may not give enough attention to symptom severity or duration, which ultimately leads to a wrong diagnosis. 

Although symptoms may overlap across different mental health issues, different issues may have very different treatment protocols. For example, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and PTSD have similar symptoms, however, there are significant differences in how each issue is addressed. If a therapist misdiagnoses PTSD, the affected individual may not get the proper treatment he needs and his symptoms may worsen. Thankfully, therapists can take advantage of online EMDR training to ensure accurate PTSD diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

2. Confidentiality breach

Maintaining confidentiality is a key part of ethical mental health treatment. However, a therapist may violate client confidentiality inadvertently. For example, a therapist may accidentally breach client confidentiality when seeking assistance from a colleague who has more experience in helping individuals with PTSD. If the client learns about this error he may lose all trust in the therapist, seek help elsewhere, or withdraw from treatment altogether. If the client’s PTSD issues become known publicly, it may negatively impact his interpersonal relationships and his ability to keep his job or find a new one.  

3. Lack of empathy

Empathy is a fundamental quality in good PTSD therapy as it is directly influences how a therapist listens to his client. Consequently, a therapist who is not empathetic may not be able to fully understand his client’s situation. A lack of empathy may also contribute to a client becoming resentful and demoralized. Both of these issues may hinder the effectiveness of PTSD treatment.

Of course it’s important to remember that therapists are human and they may be negatively affected by a patient’s behavior and problems. Nevertheless, a therapist who has a professional attitude will try to understand his client’s feelings and respect them, even if this makes his job a bit more difficult. If a therapist is unable to offer care in a respectful and professional manner, it may be best to refer the client to another mental health professional who has training and experience in treating PTSD.

4. Ineffective treatments and progress measures

PTSD treatment is a specialized aspect of mental health care. So therapists should not offer treatment for PTSD without proper training, skills, and experience. Using wrong treatment methods and progress measures won’t help a client with PTSD. If a therapist does not have the necessary training, he can help client with PTSD to develop health coping skills, regulate their emotions, and help prepare them for therapy work. 

5. Making inaccurate assumptions

Therapists should not immediately assume that a client who is always present for therapy is progressing well. This is because clients may keep attending treatment sessions even if they’re dissatisfied with the process. Some individuals may be new to therapy and may continue with the suggested protocol, not because they are satisfied, but because they simply do not know that it is possible to make adjustments. Other clients may be reserved and may prefer not to voice their concerns about treatment. 

Although an experienced therapist may have had great success in treating individuals with PTSD, he should not forget that some people may require a unique approach to care. As such, a good PTSD therapist should check with his client regularly rather than make assumptions about how treatment is progressing. He should also be flexible and developing therapeutic strategies that address the client’s needs and expectations.