Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
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How Is PTSD Treated?
New treatments have been developed over the past decade to help veterans suffering from PTSD. The U.S. government spends an estimated $3 billion on PTSD treatment each year.
Medical professionals have developed ways to treat the disorder effectively. People with PTSD often respond well to a combination of medication, therapy, and behavioral changes. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recognize how their thinking influences their emotions.
Targeted interventions are developed to treat the unique experiences of individuals. Behavioral therapies, combined with medications — and techniques like mindfulness and meditation — successfully treat the disorder.
Therapists focus on retraining the brain to reduce behavioral symptoms associated with hypervigilance. People with PTSD are constantly on guard against perceived threats. People with PTSD often benefit from yoga, meditation, massage, and relaxation techniques. Sleep heals and restores the brain.
Medications work best in combination with other therapies. Antidepressant drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are prescribed for PTSD. Antidepressants relieve PTSD symptoms of depression, aggression, restlessness, and anxiety.
Four SSRIs/SNRIs are recommended for PTSD:
- Zoloft® (sertraline)
- Paxil® (paroxetine)
- Prozac® (fluoxetine)
- Effexor® (venlafaxine)
Some doctors prescribe anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines. However, drugs like Xanax® (alprazolam) or Ativan® (lorazepam) are not a good treatment for PTSD. They can be addictive, cause other mental health problems, and reduce the effectiveness of PTSD therapies.
Non-Pharmaceutical PTSD treatments
The following techniques can be helpful when treating PTSD, sometimes in combination with medication:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people change their thought patterns by talking about the trauma or unearthing the origins of their fears. CBT is a safe and effective intervention for both acute and chronic PTSD. The therapeutic technique helps individuals integrate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is an effective treatment for PTSD. Patients treated with CPT take part in 12 weekly therapy sessions. People learn to recognize and challenge negative thoughts about their traumatic event. Homework assignments are completed between sessions.
- Cognitive restructuring (CR) is a short-term (12-16 weeks) therapy. This non-exposure treatment is designed to break negative patterns of thinking. The technique involves breathing exercises, education, and skills for developing new ways of thinking.
- Desensitization. PTSD treatment may involve repeated exposure to fearful thoughts in a safe environment. The goal is to reduce reactive emotions through controlled exposure to the traumatic event. Over time, an individual’s anxiety lessens with support from a trained therapist.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). The technique involves watching or listening to something — a hand movement, flashing light or tapping sound — while concentrating on the traumatic experience. The goal is to heal the mind by removing blocks in the brain’s information-processing center.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE). The therapeutic technique helps people confront things they’ve been avoiding. PE involves eight to 15 sessions, usually 90 minutes each. Breathing techniques help ease anxiety about the traumatic event.
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TFCBT) helps children, adolescents, adult survivors, and families recover from the damaging effects of early trauma.
Emotional support dogs. PTSD service dogs perform tasks for trauma survivors or combat veterans. Service dogs are specially trained to help people with disabilities. For example, dogs can calm someone with PTSD during an anxiety attack. They can retrieve medications, turn on lights when someone experiences night terrors, and provide reassurance.
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