Acute Stress Disorder Treatment
Thankfully, acute stress disorder treatment is available and quite helpful. After all, acute stress disorder can turn someone’s entire world upside down. Experiencing a traumatic event and developing acute stress disorder can cause disruptive symptoms that make the person feel trapped in the trauma (Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms). That’s why seeking professional treatment for acute stress disorder early on can prove very helpful.
No matter the type of acute stress disorder treatment, the goal is the same. Through therapy, the person experiencing acute stress disorder will realize that the trauma hasn’t become his/her entire life story (Giarratano, 2004).
Initial Acute Stress Disorder Treatment
An important first step in acute stress disorder treatment is helping someone regain a sense of control. Traumatic events cause a loss of security and create chaos, so first and foremost, the person must begin to feel order.
Important elements of initial acute stress disorder treatment are establishing a sense of support, safety and security, personal empowerment, and hope. Accordingly, a therapist helps someone:
- Break the problem into manageable bits
- Create treatment goals
- Manage thoughts and emotions
- Reduce arousal through breathing and relaxation techniques
- Develop and use coping skills
- Create a routine for sleep
Specific Acute Stress Disorder Treatment Approaches
Different approaches have been proven to be effective in treating acute stress disorder. Two of the most common therapeutic treatments for acute stress disorder are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and in vivo exposure therapy. Others are
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a combination of sensory stimulation and traumatic memories
- Stress inoculation training
- Development of coping skills and anxiety management
- Group therapy
Typically, medication isn’t prescribed for treatment of acute stress disorder. However, sometimes medications for depression, anxiety, or sleep are used temporarily.
Acute Stress Disorder Treatment: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
An important concept in CBT is the notion that it isn’t events themselves that cause people difficulty but instead it’s someone’s subjective thoughts about the event that lead to distress:
- Activating event (here, the trauma) leads to
- Beliefs and thoughts about the event, which in turn lead to
- Consequences (here, the symptoms of acute stress disorder)
A risk factor for developing acute stress disorder is the meaning someone assigns to the trauma. Therefore, CBT is an effective acute stress disorder treatment because it helps people reframe the trauma and what it means to them.
Of course, the traumatic event is real, and CBT doesn’t seek to minimize or ignore it. With CBT treatment for acute stress disorder, the person learns to think of the traumatic event without exaggerating it or increasing negative thoughts and feelings about it.
Because it helps people change their thoughts about the trauma and its personal meaning, CBT is an effective acute stress disorder treatment.
In Vivo Exposure Therapy for Acute Stress Disorder
While it’s not for everyone, including people who have extreme reactions to a trauma resulting in severe acute stress disorder, in vivo exposure therapy can be a very effective treatment for acute stress disorder.
In vivo exposure therapy involves progressive, real-life (in vivo) exposure to anything the person associates with the trauma. During in vivo exposure therapy for acute stress disorder, the person is reconditioned, relearning previous associations and beliefs. Gradual exposure gently helps the person take in rational new information that overrides emotionally based, fearful memory.
Treatment for acute stress disorder works. Acute stress disorder treatment helps someone make meaning of his/her experience and create order out of chaos. These concepts represent the point of acute stress disorder treatment: not to merely reduce symptoms but to move forward into life.
Last Updated: 24 October 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD