How is PTSD Treated?

Talk therapy might be one facet of PTSD treatment.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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Treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are numerous. Depending upon the cause of PTSD, sometimes people have emergency intervention or debriefing sessions immediately after a trauma has occurred. People with PTSD then may benefit from participating in psychotherapy, support groups and in a special treatment called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Manifestation of severe symptoms like panic attacks or depression may also be treated with psychiatric medication.

If a person has just experienced a traumatic event, one may have what is called a critical incident debriefing session with a licensed counselor. Debriefing also occurs when one leaves the military, or in a group setting when students have experienced a loss, like the death of a classmate. Debriefing after a rape or other violent attacks on one’s person, or after witnessing a violent attack is also quite helpful. Policemen and firemen often have debriefing sessions after witnessing terrible trauma.

Usually this first intervention involves a discussion of the event. It gives one an opportunity to discuss his or her feelings about what occurred. The debriefing counselor may then provide information about resources for additional support and discuss coping strategies. The counselor may also provide specific referrals to therapists skilled in PTSD, or to support groups designed for those who have experienced similar types of trauma.

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The goal of these sessions is to help people overcome PTSD quickly and begin to assess if follow-up treatment will be needed. While all people experience mental turmoil after trauma, PTSD is more pronounced. People with PTSD may have anxiety attacks, sudden recall of the trauma, flashbacks, and generalized stress long after a traumatic event has recurred. The condition can become so serious that people can no longer work or function appropriately in society. Debriefing helps start the immediate process of dealing with trauma, which is more likely to assist people in avoiding the more serious effects of PTSD.

Unfortunately, not all people experiencing trauma have access to debriefing. Those who have undergone an extended traumatic event, like watching a beloved person slowly die from disease, cannot be debriefed as effectively as those experiencing a single event. If the event is still occurring, people may exhibit PTSD, and stress from current trauma.

Both for those who are helped with an initial debriefing and for those who are not, psychotherapy and support groups play an extremely important role. They provide the person with PTSD continued support for the types of symptoms they may experience. They also provide a place where a person can continue to discuss an event that may have occurred a long time ago. Unfortunately, most people tend to limit how long they’re willing to listen to a person rehash a trauma. Licensed therapists, however, do not place this limit. Going over the event, or portions of experienced trauma, as many times as needed allows the person to gradually deal with the trauma.

Some therapists also perform EMDR. Patients are directed to watch a moving light, a moving finger or a metronome, which induces REM-like eye movement. They go over traumatic elements or hot thoughts about the trauma that may help them deal with the trauma in a subconscious way. Usually EMDR is used in conjunction with talk therapy, and part of EMDR is reviewing the experience through discussion. Some people feel relief from EMDR for PTSD after a few sessions. For others, the process may not work.

People with PTSD may also be treated with psychiatric medications. There is some indication that a traumatic event happening to a person who might already border on having a psychiatric condition, might push that person into developing the condition after a trauma. For example, a person who is cylothymic might become bipolar as a result of PTSD. In other cases, depression or anxiety related to the incident is treated with short-term use of medication. This can include treatment with anti-depressants or anti-anxiety agents.

Those who have lived for many years with untreated PTSD may manifest full psychosis. They may therefore require anti-psychotic medications to treat extremely violent behavior or self-injury. Treating PTSD with medication at its onset may not always prove successful. Changing the moods and perception even slightly through medication may worsen instead of improve a person’s altered perception and moods caused by trauma.

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Apunkin
Post 5

@otatop-I feel your pain, my husband is a Vietnam veteran too (1967-1969). Joining a support group was also the best thing he ever did. He *needed* to talk about his baggage, and with the guys he can do that. They can understand and relate in ways I never can. He's been going twice a week for two years.

Recently he's been talking about going back to Vietnam, as part of his healing therapy. There's a group called 'Back to the War Zone' that takes soldiers back, along with therapists and family. Apparently it's been a really successful program. I'm a bit hesitant about how he'll handle it but they are required to get a release from their therapist.

If anyone has been involved in this sort of therapy, I'd love to hear your comments.

otatop
Post 4

My husband is a Vietnam vet who has been dealing with PTSD symptoms since 1971. The best thing he ever did was join the support group at our local VA hospital.

Ever since he started talking to other vets directly, he's had fewer episodes of anger and anxiety. He says that being with others who understand him and feel the same things he does, has made the difference.

I don't think he will ever be cured, but if he (and I) can live with his illness under control, we'll be doing well.

Cruze
Post 3

@weskesler-It's totally normal to experience recall of past traumatic events while getting PTSD help for something current. It's a little like opening the floodgates. Those old buried traumas often come to the surface to be healed along with the new issues. Especially if they are in any way related.

That's why it's so important that anyone undergoing treatment for PTSD have a great support system (therapist, group, etc.).

weskesler
Post 2

Say you were beaten and abused as a child. Then you turned 18 and joined the military and made it through a week or two of basic. Then you started having flashbacks of the event and got discharged and diagnosed with PTSD. Is it normal to to have the flashbacks of the traumatic event so long after it happens??

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