Supportive Counselling


Category: Allied Health Options

What is it?

Supportive Counselling is a term which encompasses a variety of psycho-social approaches. Counselling is usually a one-on-one engagement between a trained counselor and a client, in which the counselor may lead the client through conversations which focus on various issues including emotional, social, interpersonal, health-related, educational and vocational concerns. Counselling sessions aim to help people improve their well-being, alleviate distress, resolve crises, and increase their ability to live more highly functioning lives.

How does it work?

In published studies with PTSD individuals, the main goal of supportive counselling was to explore and strengthen the participants’ individual, social, and cultural resources, to assist them to make personal decisions, plans and hopes for the future.

Exposure Therapy

Is it effective?

Although there is considerable evidence for counselling in general, only two small studies explored the effectiveness of supportive counselling for PTSD. One study on Sudanese refugees found that supportive counselling was less effective in reducing PTSD symptoms than narrative exposure therapy (a type of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy). Another small Australian study of PTSD individuals found that supportive counselling was less effective than imaginal exposure (a type of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy). Although these results are not promising, further research is required to determine the effectiveness of supportive counselling for PTSD.

Are there any disadvantages?

No studies formally considered adverse effects of supportive counselling. Some individuals may not feel comfortable discussing personal issues with a professional. Counselling sessions may not suit participants with insufficient cognition and communication skills to engage meaningfully with the counsellor.

Where do you get it?

Supportive counselling for PTSD should only be administered by specifically trained registered health professionals. The health professional should have completed basic training in counselling for this condition.

What are the evidence limitations?

The evidence base for the use of supportive counselling in PTSD is poor. Studies to date have been small and of low quality. Therefore interpreting this evidence should be undertaken with caution.


Based on the current lack of high quality evidence, supported counselling cannot be recommended as a first-line, stand alone intervention for PTSD. It may be considered as an adjunct to other PTSD interventions, such as psychological and pharmacological interventions.

Key References

Bryant, RA, Moulds, ML, Guthrie, RM, et al. 2003, ‘Imaginal exposure alone and imaginal exposure with cognitive restructuring in treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder’, Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology, vol. 71, pp. 706-12.

Neuner, F, Schauer, M, Klaschik, C, Karunakara, U & Elbert, T 2004, ‘A comparison of narrative exposure therapy, supportive counselling, and psychoeducation for treating posttraumatic stress disorder in an African refugee settlement’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 72, no. 4, pp. 579-587.

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