PTSD

4 Proven Treatments to Relieve Your PTSD Symptoms

October 1, 2021

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If you are having a mental health emergency, please seek emergency medical care by calling 911 or a crisis hotline.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) impacts millions of Americans each year. Many suffer in silence, unaware that there are many effective treatment options available to them.

PTSD treatment is no one-size-fits-all program. There are many different treatment paths that tackle specific symptoms, concerns, and/or goals. Here, we have compiled four of the most common and effective treatment plans — which can be combined — that you may want to look into if you suffer from PTSD.

Patient and therapist speaking
There are so many different kinds of therapy designed to help with PTSD. Depending on your personal struggles and strengths, certain types may work better than others for you. 

1. Therapy

Therapy is one of the most common treatments for any mental disorder or other mental health condition. This is in part because it is so non-invasive, and also in part because it is so effective. Therapy aims to improve your symptoms, teach you coping skills, and restore your confidence.

There are many different types of therapy recommended for PTSD, each tackling a separate aspect of the disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, and Prolonged Exposure Therapy are three of the most common therapies for PTSD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very common type of therapy. In fact, most PTSD therapies fall under the umbrella of CBT. 

CBT focuses on the intersection between your thoughts and your behavior. The goal is to analyze and repair harmful thought processes that are disturbing your everyday life. This requires you to confront your trauma and the sources of your fears. 

CBT lasts for as long as the patient needs, and can involve individual, group, or family sessions.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a treatment that lasts twelve weeks, with each weekly session lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. 

Your therapist will help you to unpack your traumatic memories and determine how this trauma continues to affect your thoughts and actions in the present. You will write in detail about the traumatic events.

CPT focuses on reprocessing your trauma, helping you to examine the current ways you think about your trauma and build new, healthier thought processes to understand it and move forward.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) forces you to confront things that you have been avoiding due to traumatic experiences. For eight to fifteen sessions, typically lasting 90 minutes apiece. 

This form of therapy focuses on developing a tolerance for the anxiety, disgust, guilt, or other negative emotions that accompany thoughts about your trauma. This allows you to continue living your life healthily and independently. 

This form of therapy is similar to the exposure therapy used for those with disruptive phobias or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. 

Close up of hands holding packet of green pills
Not everyone uses medication to help treat their PTSD, and medication by itself is not typically recommended. But if other treatment methods aren’t working fast enough or well enough for you, medication can give you an extra boost in the right direction. 

2. Medication

Medication is another very common treatment method for a variety of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. While therapy works to fix harmful thought patterns and behavior, medication works to fix chemical issues within the brain itself.

The most common medications prescribed for PTSD are known as SSRIs and SNRIs. These medications regulate the mood-related neurotransmitters known as serotonin and norepinephrine. This helps to improve your general mood and reduce the sensitivity of your fight-or-flight response.

Other medications such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, benzodiazepines, and more may be prescribed by your doctor to help you manage your PTSD symptoms. These medications are “off-label,” which means they haven’t been reviewed specifically for PTSD but have been shown to help with other similar mental conditions — such as anxiety or depression.

Some medications tackle specific symptoms or concerns instead of general wellness. For example, many people who suffer from PTSD have issues with sleeping. Medications that treat insomnia can be helpful for these patients.

Each person with PTSD has a unique experience, so treatments have adapted to become equally unique. While a medication alone will most likely not get rid of your PTSD symptoms, it will empower you to manage those symptoms more easily.

Brain scan from above
The impact of trauma is more than just psychological. It can actually physically change your brain, impacting your neurological chemical balances and cognitive processes. This is what TMS aims to correct.

3. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

For those who have tried therapy and/or medication before without much success, there are still PTSD treatment options out there for you. One such treatment is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). TMS has been found to be highly effective against PTSD and other disorders, with some patients even seeing full remission from their symptoms. 

TMS is a treatment that uses electromagnets to impact the electric activity in your brain. When you suffer from PTSD, the areas of your brain that focus on fight-or-flight and looking out for danger are overactive, while the areas that focus on relaxation and enjoyment are underactive. TMS can correct these errors in brain patterns. 

This treatment is safe and easy. You are awake throughout each session, as an electromagnet is placed lightly on your head outside of the relevant areas of the brain. You might hear a clicking sound and feel a tapping on your head throughout the 30-minute session. Side effects are mild, and include headache and lightheadedness.

Female patient doing EMDR treatment with her doctor
EMDR treatment can be done in many ways. Patients might follow a doctor’s finger, a pen, a light, or even an image on a computer screen throughout the session. Image courtesy of DC Metro Sleep & Psychotherapy.

4. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Unlike other forms of therapy, EMDR doesn’t always involve unpacking your trauma out loud to a therapist and talking through new coping mechanisms. In fact, in some sessions, your therapist may not even need to know what exactly you’re thinking at all.

Instead, EMDR is a treatment where your therapist directs you to focus on your traumatic experience while you follow a movement with your eyes. This could be their finger moving back and forth, or a pen, an EMDR tool, or even a virtual tool. 

EMDR usually takes a few months to have a strong effect. The goal is to desensitize your brain to the thought of your trauma, and potentially reprocess the traumatic event in a different way. EMDR is an up-and-coming advancement that is gaining traction as a treatment for PTSD as well as OCD and anxiety. 

Woman smiles and relaxes in meadow
PTSD can make you feel continuously exhausted, anxious, and depressed. Leave those negative emotions in the past with proper treatment, so you can get back to being your best you!

PTSD is a complex disorder that manifests in many different ways. Just as the disorder itself is unique, there are many unique treatment options available. 

Some PTSD patients will find the most effective treatment in EMDR, while others might use a combination of TMS and CBT, and so on. Depending on your specific struggles and strengths, you and your doctor can put together a treatment plan that is best for you!

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