PTSD treatments that have been scientifically validated can be very helpful in reducing and/or alleviating the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD therapy and PTSD medications are effective treatments for those experiencing this severe anxiety disorder, developed after a traumatic event. For PTSD treatment, these techniques are usually combined for the best outcome.
Because many psychiatric illnesses commonly occur alongside PTSD, they may also need treatment. Many people with post-traumatic stress disorder also have issues with substance abuse (drug addiction information); in these cases, the substance abuse should be treated before the PTSD. In the cases where depression occurs with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD treatment should be the priority, as PTSD has a different biology and response than depression.1
Post-traumatic stress disorder can occur at any age and can be caused by any event or situation the person perceives as traumatic. About 7% - 10% of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives.
Several types of therapy are used in the treatment of PTSD. The two primary PTSD therapies are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD focuses on recognizing thought patterns and then ascertaining and addressing faulty patterns. For example, faulty thought patterns may be causing the individual to inaccurately assess the danger of a situation and thus react to a level of danger that isn't present. CBT is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy where the person with PTSD is gradually exposed to the feared situation in a safe way. Over time, exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder allows the person to withstand and adjust to the feared stimuli.2
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a technique that combines exposure and other therapeutic approaches with a series of guided eye movements. This PTSD therapy is designed to stimulate the brain's information-processing mechanisms in an effort to reprocess the traumatic memories so they can be integrated into the psyche without the associated anxiety. (Watch our interview about EMDR Therapy Self Help Techniques for Trauma Relief)
Other therapy techniques used in PTSD treatment include:
- Family therapy
- Play therapy
- Art therapy
- Relaxation exercises
- Group therapy
- Individual talk therapy – particularly for those with trauma from abuse or from childhood
- Anxiety management
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) medications can often be used to alleviate the physical symptoms of PTSD enough so that PTSD therapy has a chance to work. Several types of PTSD medications are available, although not all are Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Medications for PTSD include:
- Antidepressants – several types of antidepressants are prescribed for PTSD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the primary type. SSRIs have been shown to help the symptoms associated with re-experiencing of trauma, avoidance of trauma cues and over-awareness of possible dangers (hyperarousal). Both sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are FDA-approved antidepressant PTSD medications
- Benzodiazepines – tranquilizers most frequently prescribed for the short-term management of anxiety symptoms. This type of PTSD medication may relieve irritability, sleep disturbances and hyperarousal symptoms. Examples include lorazepam (Ativan) and diazepam (Valium).
- Beta-blockers – may help with symptoms associated with hyperarousal. Propranolol (Inderal, Betachron E-R) is one such drug.
- Anticonvulsants – anti-seizure medications also prescribed for bipolar disorder. No anticonvulsants are FDA-approved for PTSD treatment; however, those who experience impulsivity or involuntary mood swings (emotional lability) may be prescribed medications such as carbamazepine (Tegretol, Tegretol XR) or lamotrigine (Lamictal).
- Atypical antipsychotics – these medications may help those with symptoms around re-experiencing the trauma (flashbacks) or those who have not responded to other treatment. No antipsychotic is FDA-approved in the treatment of PTSD but drugs like resperidone (Risperdal) or olanzapine (Zyprexa) may be prescribed.
Novel pilot studies also suggest that Prazosin (Minipress, an alpha-1 receptor agonist) or Clonidine (Catapres, Catapres-TTS, Duraclon, an antiadrenergic agent) may also be helpful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).