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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Muia

PTSD from a Car Accident: FAQ about Psychological Therapy

Updated: May 16, 2023

Motor vehicle accidents are unexpected but very common. More than 10,000 people in Alberta are injured from a traffic collisions each year as drivers, passengers, or pedestrians. Find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about car accident therapy below:

A Jeep driving into a rainbow

Do I need to talk to a psychologist after being involved in a motor vehicle accident?

If you have been physically, mentally, or emotionally impacted by a car accident injury, it is important to coordinate medical and psychological care with a doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist, massage therapist, and psychologist. You want to assemble a support team that will help you recover as fully as possible to your pre-accident functioning.

Car accidents can be a traumatic experience, even if they are not major or you are not severely injured. After the incident, you or others may notice a physical injury, pain, shock, stress, and other changes that can increase your risk for psychological distress. You might experience strong feelings of blame, shame, guilt, anger, distrust, or loneliness. Many people report mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • fear of driving

  • anxiety while driving

  • nightmares or daymares

  • disturbing memories

  • flashbacks

  • hypervigilance

  • intrusive thoughts

  • avoidance of the scene

  • increased startle response

  • feeling disconnected or zoning out

  • forgetting important parts of the accident

  • irritability

  • sudden mood changes

  • insomnia or night waking

  • loss of interest in usual activities

Maybe your physical injuries are not healing as quickly as you or your health professionals might expect, or there is no physical explanation for your pain. Psychological distress can slow or prevent physical healing, and can also show up as physical symptoms, including:

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Pounding heart

  • Trouble breathing

  • Sweating

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Low energy

Seeing a psychologist after a car accident allows you to assess your mental wellness and can help you recover physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Man standing on a sidewalk

How soon can I seek psychological support after a car accident?

The best time to seek support is when you notice symptoms interfering with your daily life. Your family, friends, doctor, or other health professionals might recommend you talk to someone about your experience and struggles. Seeing a psychologist doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, just that something bad happened to you. Therapy can help you get you back to normal.

The psychological effects of a car accident can last for days, months, or years. Some people come in right after the accident for crisis management and immediate counselling. Some seek therapy later for ongoing support with new, recurring, or chronic concerns.

The sooner you get support, the better you can prevent any long-term physical, mental, and emotional health issues. It is also easier to access motor vehicle insurance coverage for assessment and therapy when you seek services within 90 days, but support is still available up to two years after the accident date.

How can I cover the cost of psychological treatment after a motor vehicle injury?

Many people are not aware of the financial support they can access for psychological care from car insurance in addition to extended health benefits,

Within 90 days after a car accident, your motor vehicle insurance or the other party’s insurance will automatically cover $1,000 of psychological assessments, documentation, and treatment planning to facilitate recovery. After 90 days, you usually have to use private psychology benefits first if they are available to you.

Under Section B of your or the other party’s car insurance benefits, there is $50,000 of coverage for physiotherapy, psychological counselling, and other medical care. This amount is available to be used after benefits, within two years of the accident, with a doctor’s referral, and subject to approval by the insurance adjuster.

A psychologist can support you:

  • to become aware of your rights and advocate as needed with your consent;

  • to complete the necessary authorizations to receive care, including the notice of claim and proof of claim form;

  • to communicate with your insurance company;

  • by completing general assessments, developing a treatment plan, and submitting a confidential report if required by your MVA insurance; and

  • by providing treatment and psychological interventions including CBT, EMDR, talk, and somatic therapy to decrease symptoms of stress, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD.

Woman feeling her emotions

How long will it take before I feel normal again after a car accident?

Some symptoms last a few days or weeks, while others linger for months or years. Therapy can increase the likelihood of improved functioning and reduce the risk of prolonged distress or impairment, but there is no set time for recovery from psychological stress and trauma. Healing is aided by systemic support including health care, medical treatment, psychological services, and social support.

Being in a car accident can mean you have to attend medical appointments for weeks and months on end. The barriers to recovery include the effort, energy, cost, time, and stress associated with treatment and dealing with limitations, social isolation, mental health stigma, trauma, and fear. Online therapy is a private and convenient way to access counselling and improve your health.

Whatever your situation, a psychologist can help you feel better and get back to where you want to be. Contact Therapy Alberta if you are in Alberta and would like to speak with a psychologist about your car accident.

Elizabeth Muia is a Registered Provisional Psychologist in Calgary offering trauma therapy to adults and teens in Alberta who have been impacted by motor vehicle accidents and other traumas. She offers EMDR Therapy to help people heal from PTSD and trauma responses.


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