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Strength in Numbers: Support Groups for PTSD

written by: mmarler • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/19/2011

Sharing with others in a supportive, caring and nurturing environment created by a PTSD support group can help those with the disorder face and overcome problems triggered by a traumatic experience.

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    How Support Groups can Help

    There are many benefits to using support groups to help treat PTSD. One of the main advantages is validation; realizing you are not alone in your struggles. Seeing others going through the same problems can be comforting.

    You may well have friends and family members who are sympathetic to your plight, but unless they have personal experience of PTSD it will be difficult for them to understand what you are going through. Some PTSD patients find this aggravating. But within a support group you will be able to identify with others who know exactly what is happening to you.

    In addition to validation there is also the opportunity to learn from others and the coping methods they have used. You will receive perspectives and advice that you may never have thought of.

    There is also the added benefit that you will come across someone who has a lot more experience of the disorder than you; they may even have recovered from the effects of PTSD. Their knowledge can be invaluable in helping you to defeat the disorder.

    Sharing your story about your traumatic experience can help you to feel more comfortable talking about the past with people outside of the group, such as close friends and partners.

    And as others can help you, there is also the possibility that you will be able to help others in the group. Not only is this good for them, but it can boost your self-esteem and your resolve to overcome your PTSD.

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    Inside a Group Session

    Most PTSD support groups have common activities and approaches, but they may vary depending on the therapist. Usually the sessions are divided into three sections which are psycho educational skills group, trauma-focused support groups and present-centered groups. These groups are usually in the order listed above and the length required to move to the next one depends on the success of the individual.

    Pyscho educational skills group - This group focuses on teaching coping skills and involves;

    • Anger Management
    • Stress Management
    • Health and Wellness
    • Mindfulness
    • Learning to Understand PTSD
    • Anxiety relaxation techniques

    Trauma-based group therapy - During these sessions, the patients begin to confront their traumatic experience in a controlled, safe environment. This is one of the more difficult stages of group therapy. In this group, members can offer advice and support to one another.

    Present-centered support group - PTSD sufferers are plagued by memories and nightmares of their past. This group is designed to get them focused on the present.

    During these sessions there is usually a check-in at the beginning where group members are open to discuss challenges and stories of success they experienced since the previous meeting. This is usually followed by a set activity for a predetermined amount of time, depending on which step the group is focused on. Homework is often assigned to help with coping skills outside of a group setting. After the activity there is another open discussion. Here the conversations are centred on the day's activity which allows group members to discuss concerns, feelings and emotions experienced throughout the session. This is important as it allows the therapist to ensure that patients are calm and relaxed as they leave the controlled environment.

    A person may not be allowed to participate in a certain group, but this should not be taken as a personal attack. Due to the importance and the amount of interaction between members there is usually a screening process to try and match people who have similar symptoms. It is important for individuals to be able to relate to one another on some level when beating PTSD with support groups.

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    References

    Bruce H. Young, Dudley D. Blake. Group Treatments for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Routledge. July 1999

    National Center for PTSD - http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/treatment-ptsd.asp *group therapy

    Mayo Clinic -http://www.mayoclinic.org/support-groups/benefits.html