Psychotherapy for Chronic PTSD: A Vietnam Vet’s Journey is a 2-hour and 47-minute training DVD appropriate for a classroom and/or training seminar. The DVD features three individuals: Dr. Victor Yalom (serving as the interviewer), Dr. Frank Ochberg (the clinician with expertise in post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), and Terry (Dr. Ochberg’s client who has struggled with PTSD following his experiences in the Vietnam War). One unique aspect of this DVD is that Dr. Yalom candidly interviews both the clinician and the client about the work that occurs between them; their comments demonstrate the tremendous impact of both the therapeutic relationship and the specific techniques that the DVD highlights.
The DVD begins with a detailed review of PTSD, in which Dr. Yalom interviews Dr. Ochberg. Following this review, Dr. Ochberg begins to describe his treatment regimen, starting with a thorough assessment of the client’s holistic health. Specific areas covered include physical health, nutrition, sense of humor, spiritual beliefs/practices and social relationships. Dr. Ochberg’s unique approach includes elements such as (a) not being the one who opens the door to clients sharing their traumatic experience, (b) connecting current clients with former clients to serve as support networks (with clients’ permission), (c) using creative techniques (e.g., poetry) and (d) involving the family in the treatment process. Dr. Ochberg notes the important fact that there is a crucial need for competent clinicians who are interested in working with clients struggling with PTSD; unfortunately, there are many more clients who need services than there are such clinicians.
Dr. Yalom next interviews Terry about his experience of living with PTSD following the Vietnam War (before starting therapy with Dr. Ochberg). Terry waited 40 years to seek counseling. His motivation to seek treatment, like that of many veterans, was spurred by the recognition of how miserable his life had become. His first attempt at therapy was with a clinician who was unskilled in treating PTSD; luckily, this clinician kept a good referral list of others with the necessary expertise. This is how Terry came to meet with Dr. Ochberg. Next, Terry recounts what he found to be most helpful in working with Dr. Ochberg, including both the relationship and the techniques they used.
Following the interviews of Dr. Ochberg and Terry, the DVD spends the remaining time on various session segments in which Dr. Ochberg and Terry demonstrate the discussed techniques. Drs. Yalom and Ochberg provide commentary to accompany the segments. Among these segments, the value of using the client’s religion/spirituality as a source of meaning-making receives specific focus. During the session, Dr. Ochberg readily admits to having routinely avoided his clients’ religion/spirituality during the early part of his career. He notes that he felt that he was missing a significant source of strength for clients as they created meaning about their traumatic experiences. Terry shares how impactful it was for Dr. Ochberg to explore his belief system, as it helped him to release much of his survivor’s guilt.
The DVD next demonstrates Dr. Ochberg using several therapeutic techniques during the treatment process. Dr. Ochberg first shares a poem he had written about his work with Terry (and other PTSD sufferers). He reads the poem to Terry and experiences his reaction, which seems to constitute a cathartic moment for Terry. Another unique strategy that Dr. Ochberg uses when working with PTSD is Ochberg’s Color Wheel, a pie chart with six colored segments. Each color corresponds to various feelings (and associated thoughts): yellow represents jumping for joy, blue signifies serenity, red reflects love (of others), green signifies self-love/self-respect, orange represents sensual pleasure, and purple reflects spiritual connections. Terry learns to use the wheel as a means of identifying feelings that have been numbed by traumatic experiences, and/or refocusing himself when in the midst of extreme anxiety, anger/rage, depression, etc. In the midst of the session segment, Dr. Ochberg invites Terry to mindfully consider each of the representative colors as a means of soothing an episode of anxiety. Next, Terry explores his anxious thoughts through the filter of the colors.
The final technique that Dr. Ochberg demonstrates is the Counting Method. Clients learn this PTSD-alleviating technique prior to use in the session, and they employ it when their flashbacks and/or intrusive memories are significantly impacting their lives. The clinician provides instructions to properly prepare clients for this technique, which involves clients silently allowing themselves to relive the events as they occurred (with all the associated thoughts and feelings). The clinician counts aloud from 1 to 100, and upon completion of the counting, the client shares what he or she experienced during the counting. The counselor writes down what the client shares and then processes the events in detail. Dr. Ochberg demonstrates this technique with Terry and discusses its purpose and utility.
Accompanying the DVD is an Instructor’s Manual, which serves as a useful adjunct to showing the video in a classroom or training seminar. The manual includes discussion questions that can be used for small groups, reflective writing exercises and the like. Additionally, the manual contains detailed descriptions of the techniques that the DVD demonstrates, including a guided role-play for students/practitioners who desire to practice these techniques. The manual concludes with suggested websites, videos and readings for those who want to pursue additional information on the treatment of PTSD.
The DVD package would be appropriate to use with graduate students in such courses as diagnosis and treatment, trauma counseling and/or a course that focuses on counseling veterans. For practicing clinicians intent on working with trauma survivors and/or combat veterans, this DVD would be a great aid to building their professional competence.
Reviewed by: W. Bryce Hagedorn, NCC, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida.
Psychotherapy.net (Producer), & Yalom, V. (Director). (2012). Psychotherapy for Chronic PTSD with Frank Ochberg, MD [DVD and video streaming]. Available from http://www.psychotherapy.net/video/ptsd
Available in DVD and streaming format as part of video subscription at Psychotherapy.net/subscriptions.
The Professional Counselor