PTSD Treatment This Emotional Life on PBS

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PTSD

		

Treatment

There are good PTSD treatments that help people work through their memories and emotions and reduce or eliminate their symptoms.

The memories and feelings never go away completely, but they don’t need to be upsetting or disrupt your life and relationships. Most people with PTSD never seek professional help because of the stigma associated with seeking mental health care or lack of information about where to go for help. This is unfortunate, because PTSD is a condition that can be treated very successfully by a number of methods, and the suffering of people with PTSD is greatly reduced if they seek professional help. If you or someone you love is struggling with signs of PTSD, a mental health professional can help you find the combination of treatments that works best for you or your loved one.

CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy

In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapist helps you examine and choose the way you think and feel about a traumatic event and its aftermath. CBT also helps you develop skills to process thoughts and feelings when they arise. This therapy can be a way of making sense of what happened.  

There are many different forms of counseling or psychotherapy for PTSD. Some of these treatments involve talking about or writing about the traumatic experience. Scientific studies show that most evidence-based forms of psychotherapy for PTSD work about equally well, but exposure therapy has received the most scientific support to date.

It is often useful to provide counseling to couples or the whole family, as PTSD in one family member often affects the entire family.

There are occasions when additional treatments need to be added to PTSD therapy, such as substance abuse treatment or hospitalization.

Exposure

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a cognitive behavioral therapy that has received scientific support for treating PTSD. In exposure therapy, a therapist helps you safely approach your painful memories of the traumatic event in a controlled way. It may seem strange and difficult at first to purposefully bring up painful events. However, by repeatedly telling your story with a therapist’s guidance, the traumatic event loses its emotional “punch” and you learn to control your thoughts and feelings about those events. The memories can lose their intensity and power to disrupt your life as your symptoms lessen. Withdrawing from life and avoiding triggers to painful memories can be among the most disabling symptoms of PTSD. Exposure therapy teaches you how to stop avoiding situations and people that remind you of the traumatic event by lowering the anxiety these situations evoke. Finally, exposure therapy helps you find new and constructive meaning from the traumatic event and eradicate destructive beliefs about the event, such as self-blame.

Cognitive-
processing

Cognitive-processing therapy

Cognitive-Processing Therapy (CPT) uses aspects of exposure therapy and other cognitive therapy approaches. CPT is based on the idea that PTSD symptoms stem from a conflict between beliefs about yourself and the world from before the trauma—such as, the belief that you are safe—and how your world and beliefs about it change after the traumatic event. These conflicts are called “stuck points.” As in exposure therapy, in CPT you are asked to write the traumatic event in detail and then read your story aloud. A therapist helps you identify the “stuck points” in your thinking. For example, people with PTSD often have feelings of self-blame and think, “I must have done something to deserve this.” The therapist can help you identify these thoughts and think through evidence for and against them. This can help you put the traumatic event in perspective.

Eye movement
(EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) aims to reduce the intensity of disturbing memories by activating them and helping the brain reprocess those memories. For example, a therapist may create a distraction while you talk about your memories, such as asking you to follow his hand with your eyes, in order to help desensitize the memory and allow for reprocessing of the memory.

Medication

Medication

Medication may be appropriate to help alleviate symptoms of PTSD, such as nightmares, sleep problems, depression, and anxiety that often go along with PTSD. A healthcare provider may prescribe antidepressants, anti\anxiety medication, or other medications that help normalize your stress hormones and reduce your symptoms.

Find Help

Locate mental health and well-being support organizations in your area.