What is PC? Progressive Counting (PC) is a research-supported psychotherapy procedure for healing from trauma or loss memories. Briefly: the therapist counts out loud first to 10, then 20, then 30, etc., each time guiding the client to imagine a “movie” of the troubling memory from beginning to end.
What is it used for? By healing from disturbing memories, PC is used to reduce or eliminate symptoms such as anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and post-traumatic reactions. It can also be used to enhance psychological resources such as confidence and self-esteem.
What happens in a session? By repeatedly imagining the “movie” of the memory, the memory gets “digested” or healed, perhaps via desensitization, emotional processing, gaining perspective, or other means. Sometimes a painful memory brings up unpleasant emotions; this generally passes within a few minutes, as long as the PC is not stopped. Ultimately, the upsetting emotion or memory often seems to fade into the past and lose its power.
Why bring up a painful memory? When the memory is avoided, it keeps its disturbing power. However, a flashback, nightmare, or obsessive recall can feel as upsetting as the original experience, yet not be helpful. In therapy, and with PC, you can face the memory in a safe setting, in a structured way so that you do not feel overwhelmed. Then you can get through it and move on.
Will I be in control? It is hard to predict the thoughts, feelings, or memory details that might come up during PC. It depends upon each individual's natural healing process. You are always in charge of whether to continue or stop. You can also decide how much to tell the therapist about the memory details. The therapist serves as a guide to help you stay on track and get the most out of the session, and may encourage you to continue through difficult parts.
Are there any precautions? Yes. There are specific procedures to be followed depending on your presenting problem, emotional stability, and other factors. It is very important that the therapist be formally trained in PC as well as trauma-informed therapy. Otherwise, there is a risk that PC would be incomplete, ineffective, or even harmful.
What happens afterwards? You may continue to process the material for days or even weeks after the session, perhaps having new insights, vivid dreams, strong feelings, or memory recall. This may feel confusing, but it is just a continuation of the healing process, and should simply be reported to the therapist at the next session. (However, if you become concerned or depressed, you should call your therapist immediately.) As the distressing symptoms fade, you can work with the therapist on developing new skills and ways of coping.
How can I get PC therapy? The Trauma Institute & Child Trauma Institute (TI & CTI) maintains a listing of PC-trained therapists, including PC-certified therapists who have met the required standards of training and supervised experience. Other referral sources may include TI & CTI trainers and consultants, as well as local mental health providers. With your therapist you can develop a treatment plan, which may include PC.
How can I learn more about PC? The most comprehensive source is TI & CTI’s PC web site page. You can also contact your local PC therapist.