Most psychologists will eventually have to work with a client who has experienced post traumatic stress disorder. Due to the nature of these cases, working with a client experiencing PTSD can present challenges that clinicians must be prepared for. Working with a military veteran, a victim of child abuse, a parent who has lost a child unexpectedly or victims of large-scale disasters can involve different therapeutic techniques than will working with individuals with other types of psychological conditions. The following requirements are typically required for psychologists wishing to be qualified to work with individuals diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
Prior to working with individuals experiencing PTSD, the professional must first meet the educational requirements for practicing as a psychologist. According to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, most states in the United States, as well as provinces and territories in Canada, require that the psychologist first earn their doctoral degree in the field of psychology in order to be eligible for independent practice. Master’s-level clinicians can work with individuals who have a post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, but those clinicians will be required to practice under the supervision of a doctoral-level clinician.
The American Psychiatric Association lists several treatment modalities that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder, including psychotherapy, cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy. Psychology students wishing to pursue a career working with individuals who have PTSD should have extensive education and training in one or more of these treatment modalities. It may also be useful to have experience with family therapy and group therapy techniques.
In addition, future clinicians should also receive education in the various medications used to treat PTSD symptoms. While psychologists can not prescribe medication, it is likely that the clients with PTSD will also be taking therapeutic medications, and the clinician should be familiar with the side effects, warnings and effectiveness of those medications.
The licensure requirements for psychologists will vary slightly between states. However, almost every jurisdiction in the United States and Canada requires that psychologists be licensed to practice. This licensure often first requires the candidate to successfully complete a professional examination and supervised clinical experience. Individuals wishing to work with clients that have PTSD can choose to pursue internships and practicum opportunities in clinics that serve veterans, child abuse victims, domestic violence victims or other individuals facing significant levels of trauma.
Licensed psychologists are also often required to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year. This continuing education typically involves both general education in the field of psychology and specialized information on certain areas, such as post traumatic stress disorder treatments. This continuing education can be obtained by conference attendance and course completion, among other methods.
Almost every psychologist will come across clients who have experienced significant traumatic events, such as war, the death of a loved one or a major disaster. In addition, some professionals work primarily with abuse or trauma victims. While states often don’t require specialized training for working with clients who have post traumatic stress disorder, seeking out specialized training can make the clinician more comfortable with the challenges and dynamics that occur while working with these clients, and may also make the psychologist far more effective to the client.