Effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder


By Kevin J. Kelly
Special to The PREVIEW

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often want to avoid talking about their memories and experiences, yet this is the very thing that will help them get better.

What is important is to talk with someone who has been trained in what are called “evidence-based” treatments. Evidence-based means that there have been scientific studies which show that certain treatments work better than others.

According to the National Center for PTSD, the most effective treatment for PTSD is cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. There are two types of CBT that have been shown to be most effective: One is called cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and the other is prolonged exposure (PE) therapy. There is a similar kind of therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Medications have also been shown to be effective and work best in combination with one of the evidence-based therapies.

In cognitive therapy, a form of CBT, your therapist helps you to understand and change how you think about your trauma and its aftermath. The goal is to understand the meaning that you give to your experience and explore alternative, more accurate, less damaging beliefs. This in turn changes how you feel.

It is common for people to feel guilty and responsible for the traumatic event and you may find that you can be liberated from the guilt by developing a more complete and realistic explanation of what happened. Fifty-three out of every 100 people who receive CBT will no longer have PTSD.

People with PTSD understandably avoid thinking about their trauma, which can create tension and prevent them from healing. Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy helps people to have less fear about their memories by gradually exposing themselves to thoughts or situations that have made them uncomfortable. This technique harnesses our ability to adapt to many situations over time. One example of this is the adaptation you made to being in a wartime environment that you couldn’t have imagined previously. PE therapy helps you to feel safe again. Fifty-three out of every 100 people who receive PE will no longer have PTSD.

EMDR helps people to react differently to memories of trauma. There is disagreement about whether eye movements are a necessary part of the treatment. In this treatment, you focus on an external motion or sound. Fifty-three out of every 100 people who receive EMDR will no longer have PTSD.

Medication can help restore the balance of naturally occurring chemicals in your brain. Forty-two out of every 100 people who receive medication will no longer have PTSD.

Group treatment is another form of treatment used for PTSD. This treatment can help people to see the similarities between their experiences and those of other people with PTSD. A sense of camaraderie similar to that which they experienced in the military can help them to feel a sense of belonging and social support that might otherwise be missing in their life. They learn to be more effective in their present life rather than focusing on a past that they can’t change.

CBT treatment for PTSD can last between three and six months and other treatment can last longer. If you have other mental health problems, treatment can last for several years or longer.

What is important to remember is that you are not alone, and professional treatment with evidence-based therapies can and does help many people to heal and go on to live productive and happy lives.

If you’d like to learn more about PTSD, its symptoms, treatment options and resources, go to ptsd.va.gov.

If you are a combat veteran, wonder if you might have PTSD symptoms and live in southwest Colorado, call Vets 4 Vets at 799-8387.