Stress Inoculation Training: Strengths & Weaknesses

therapist talking to man in military uniform

Stress inoculation training is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that has been proven useful for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and similar conditions. If you suffer from PTSD, know what to expect from stress inoculation training and speak with a mental health professional about whether it is right for you.

What Is Stress Inoculation Training?

The concept of stress inoculation is largely based on the medical process involving vaccines against infectious diseases. When a doctor gives you a vaccine—whether it is for polio, hepatitis B or the flu—she is injecting you with a small amount of the illness that the vaccine is designed to prevent. This allows your immune system to begin developing antibodies against that specific strain of illness. However, because it is such a small, harmless amount of the illness, your immune system is able to overcome it and grow stronger.

The same concept is applied in stress inoculation training. Mental health professionals use stress inoculation training to help patients with PTSD, rape trauma syndrome and other stress-related conditions become acclimated to dealing with small, harmless amounts of stress. Gradually the degree of stress is increased over the course of therapy and the individual is able to grow stronger by developing healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.

What Are the Weaknesses of Stress Inoculation Training?

Stress is a relative concept, which means that what may be stressful for one person is not necessarily stressful for the next. This can make identifying initial stress inoculation sessions difficult. If a client and therapist do not communicate well or if the client is pushed too far too fast, it is possible that the client will be unable to handle a specific stress inoculation experience. This can cause a person to be re-traumatized, to lose trust or quit therapy completely.

When you first begin working with a therapist, it’s important to be completely honest about your stressors and how you cope with stress. If you feel therapy is moving too quickly or you’re not yet ready for the next step, voice your concerns to your therapist. Only by having open communication with your therapist can you avoid being put in a situation that is too stressful to handle.

What Are the Strengths of Stress Inoculation Training?

Thanks to stress inoculation training, many people with stress- and anxiety-based disorders are able to lead full, happy lives with minimal disturbance from PTSD symptoms. During stress inoculation training, a counselor or therapist helps guide you through every step of the stressful experience. This focused attention and support can help people suffering from PTSD build a repertoire of coping skills for use when they are on their own.

Stress inoculation training teaches you how to react to stressful situations in a way that will make you feel calmer, more in control and less vulnerable. This training often helps people suffering from PTSD and related disorders build more self-confidence, as well. This form of treatment helps people feel comfortable venturing out into new places or situations that used to evoke a fear or anxiety response.

By introducing individuals with stress- and anxiety-based disorders to stressful stimuli in small doses and providing supportive interventions throughout, therapists can help their clients move from a victim identity to seeing themselves as strong, resilient survivors.

 

Sources:

“Stress Inoculation Training: A Preventative and Treatment Approach” – D. Meichenbaum
http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/Meichenbaum_2007_Stress_Inoculation_Training1.pdf

“The Effectiveness of Stress Inoculation Training with Military Personnel Deployed” – Uniformed Services University
https://www.usuhs.edu/content/effectiveness-stress-inoculation-training-military-personnel-deployed

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