There is Hope: Taking control back from PTSD
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects 3.5 percent of the American population, and while it is strongly linked with the military because of the trauma suffered in combat, it also affects millions of victims of other types of trauma. For instance, PTSD can occur after the death of a loved one, domestic violence, sexual assault or a serious car accident. There is hope, and taking control back from PTSD is very possible with treatment.
Any serious, unresolved personal trauma can cause PTSD. PTSD is an anxiety disorder which distorts normal responses to danger, and are triggered by seemingly small daily events, long after the debilitating event occurs.
PTSD does respond well to treatment that helps people to manage their symptoms. Outpatient treatments for PTSD typically use medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. Every person and every situation is different, therapists will work with the individual to formulate the best plan for successful treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a common form of talk therapy that actively involves the patient while they learn skills to handle their symptoms throughout their life. CBT therapy helps patients challenge negative thought patterns about themselves, their surroundings and the world in general. CBT seeks to alter negative behavior and mood disorders like extreme anxiety and depression, by working with a mental health professional in a structured way for a limited number of sessions. It also includes extensive reading about PTSD, keeping records of problems between therapy visits, and practicing treatment procedures. PTSD patients learn skills during their sessions, but must practice to see improvement, generally in 12 to 16 weeks
Exposure therapy is a form of CBT, designed to help patients face their fear and control it, by exposing them to the same trauma they had previously experienced, but safely. While very individualized, it typically uses writing, mental imagery and recreation or visits to the time and place where the event occurred. This helps the veteran or victim of violence deal with their feelings and cope with their PTSD symptoms. In exposure therapy, the person is exposed to their feared situation or place gradually, and they learn over time to become less sensitive to it.
Cognitive restructuring (CR), designed to help a person understand the bad memories and look at what happened in a more realistic way, helps to identify irrational thoughts, all-or-nothing thinking, and problems like over-generalization and magnification of the problem. Cognitive restructuring can use techniques like Socratic questions, guided imagery, and thought recording.
Stress inoculation training
Stress inoculation training (SIT) therapy aims to reduce PTSD symptoms by teaching them anxiety-reduction techniques and helping them to review their memories in a healthy way. SIT allows patients to prepare themselves to handle stresses as they occur, with minimal upset. The therapist is "inoculating" the patient so they are resistant to stressors. Patients are taught about the nature of stress, how they are processing their stress to result in negative behaviors, and how they can avoid similar outcomes in the future.
Virtual reality treatment
Virtual reality treatment is a special type of exposure therapy that uses technological advancements to carefully design a virtual environment which includes the feared situation or place that causes their symptoms. Treatments expose the PTSD patient virtually, without as much risk as using the real environment, which gives the therapist greater control via use of a computer keyboard. They can stop the therapy at any point or manipulate the situation to best help the person gain control over their negative thoughts. All of this is done safely in the therapist's office.
People with PTSD are less likely to have a relapse if antidepressant treatment is combined with therapy. There are many medications used to treat PTSD, but typically they are serotonergic antidepressants, part of the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), approved by the FDA for treating PTSD.
Medicines commonly prescribed to help with PTSD are sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluoxetine (Prozac). Research shows these types of medicines decrease panic, depression and anxiety, as well as aggression and suicidal thoughts or behavior.