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PTSD Treatment: Effective Therapy Options

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on June 3, 2024

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects millions of individuals worldwide, with approximately 3.6% of the population experiencing this potentially debilitating condition in the past year.[1] The prevalence of PTSD highlights the impact of traumatic experiences on mental health, while also indicating the urgent need for effective PTSD treatment options to address its far-reaching consequences.

The symptoms of PTSD affect several aspects of daily life, from intrusive memories and flashbacks to avoidance behaviors and hypervigiliance. Despite the intrusive nature of PTSD symptoms, effective treatments have been developed to help people manage and overcome the challenges associated with this condition.

Through a combination of therapy treatments, medication options, and comprehensive care approaches, people with PTSD can access personalized treatment plans designed to address their unique needs and circumstances.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental illness that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.[2] PTSD is characterized by a range of symptoms that can persist long after the traumatic event has ended. These symptoms often include intrusive memories, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, negative changes in thinking and mood, and heightened agitation or sensitivity.

Other trauma-related disorders include acute stress disorder (ASD), which is similar to PTSD but occurs within a month of the traumatic event and lasts for a shorter duration, and adjustment disorder, which involves emotional and behavioral symptoms that occur in response to a stressful event but do not meet the criteria for PTSD or ASD.[3]

Additionally, complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is a variant of PTSD that can develop after prolonged, repeated trauma, such as ongoing abuse or neglect, and is characterized by additional symptoms related to difficulties in emotion regulation and interpersonal relationships[4]

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

The symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into four main categories:[5]

  • Intrusive memories: This includes recurrent, distressing memories of the traumatic event, flashbacks where the individual feels as if they’re reliving the trauma, upsetting dreams or nightmares about the event, and intense psychological or physiological distress when exposed to reminders of the trauma.
  • Avoidance: People with PTSD often try to avoid reminders of the traumatic event. This includes avoiding certain places, people, activities, or conversations that remind them of the trauma. They may also avoid thinking or talking about the event altogether.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: PTSD can lead to negative changes in thinking and mood, such as persistent negative beliefs about oneself or the world, distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the trauma, feelings of detachment or estrangement from others, persistent negative emotional states like fear, guilt, or shame, and a diminished interest in once-enjoyable activities.
  • Agitation and reactivity: Individuals with PTSD may experience heightened agitation and reactivity, including difficulty sleeping or concentrating, hypervigilance or exaggerated startle response, irritability or angry outbursts, and reckless or self-destructive behavior.

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, and the severity and duration of symptoms can vary from person to person. Additionally, symptoms may develop shortly after the traumatic event or may not appear until months or even years later.

What Are Some Common Causes of PTSD?

PTSD can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as an event that involves actual or threatened death, serious injury, abuse or sexual violence, but can be any event that causes distressful emotions in an individual.

Here is a list of the most common causes of PTSD include:[6]

  • Combat exposure: Military personnel who have experienced combat situations, including direct combat, witnessing injury or death, or being exposed to explosive devices, are at risk of developing PTSD.
  • Physical or sexual assault: Survivors of physical or sexual assault, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, or rape, may develop PTSD.
  • Childhood trauma: Experiencing traumatic events during childhood, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, can increase the risk of developing PTSD later in life.
  • Natural disasters: Survivors of natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or tsunamis may develop PTSD due to the traumatic experiences and losses associated with these events.
  • Accidents or serious injuries: Being involved in a serious accident, such as a car crash, plane crash, or industrial accident, or experiencing a life-threatening injury can lead to PTSD.
  • Witnessing traumatic events: People who witness traumatic events, such as a serious accident, violent assault, or sudden death, may develop PTSD, even if they were not directly involved in the event.
  • Medical trauma: Patients who undergo traumatic medical procedures, experience life-threatening illnesses, or witness traumatic medical events may develop PTSD.

Related: Types of Trauma

Can I Recover From PTSD?

Yes, recovery from PTSD is possible. While the journey may look different for everyone, the condition itself is treatable with the right support and interventions.[7] Through various therapeutic approaches and strategies, many people can significantly reduce their PTSD symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Seeking help from licensed mental health professional who specializes in PTSD treatment is the first step for initiating the recovery process. With time, effort, and appropriate support, individuals with PTSD can experience meaningful improvements in their mental well-being and overall functioning.

What if My PTSD Goes Untreated?

Leaving PTSD untreated can have significant consequences, including worsening symptoms over time, and impacting relationships, work, and physical health. Substance abuse and other mental health disorders may also develop as unhealthy coping mechanisms (known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring issues), further complicating the situation.[8]

As is true with most mental health disorders, early intervention is key. Effective treatments are available for PTSD and co-occurring mental health disorders, offering pathways to reclaiming well-being and restoring quality of life.

Effective Treatments for PTSD

PTSD is a highly treatable condition, and with the right interventions, individuals can experience significant improvements in their symptoms and overall quality of life. While the road to recovery may vary for each person, there are several evidence-based treatments available that are effective in addressing the symptoms of PTSD and promoting healing.

Types of Therapy for PTSD

When it comes to PTSD treatment, various therapeutic programs have been developed to address the complex nature of trauma-related symptoms. Often called talk therapy or psychotherapy, these methods focus on empowering individuals to confront and process traumatic memories, challenge negative thought patterns, and develop coping skills to manage symptoms effectively:[9]

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is an evidence-based therapy that focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with PTSD. Through targeted interventions, individuals learn coping skills to manage symptoms and develop more adaptive ways of thinking and behaving.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT helps individuals process and make sense of traumatic experiences by examining and re-framing thoughts and beliefs related to the trauma. By addressing cognitive distortions and maladaptive thought patterns, CPT aims to reduce the emotional distress and symptoms associated with PTSD.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy involves gradually and safely exposing individuals to trauma-related memories, allowing them to confront and process their fears in a safe and controlled setting. Through repeated exposure, individuals learn to tolerate distress and reduce avoidance behaviors, ultimately diminishing the power of traumatic memories.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR combines elements of exposure therapy with bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or taps, to facilitate the processing of traumatic memories. This approach aims to desensitize individuals to distressing memories and promote adaptive resolution of trauma-related symptoms.

Group Therapy

Group therapy provides a supportive environment where individuals can connect with others who have experienced similar traumas. Sharing experience, insights, and coping skills in a group setting can foster a sense of validation and belonging, reducing feelings of isolation and shame.

Medication Management for PTSD

In addition to therapy, certain medications may be prescribed to help alleviate specific symptoms of PTSD, particularly when symptoms are severe or co-occurring with other mental health disorders. Commonly prescribed medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts.[10]

Combining medication management with therapy offers comprehensive treatment for PTSD. Medications can help alleviate acute symptoms, making it easier for individuals to engage in therapy and learn coping skills effectively. Therapy, on the other hand, addresses the underlying causes and triggers of PTSD, promoting long-term healing and resilience.

The Benefits of an Outpatient Mental Health Program for PTSD Treatment

Participating in an outpatient mental health program provides structured support and access to a range of therapies while allowing individuals to maintain their daily routines and responsibilities. Outpatient programs offer flexibility and continuity of care, enabling individuals to receive ongoing support as they work toward recovery.

Additionally, outpatient programs often include a multidisciplinary team of mental health professionals who collaborate to develop individualized treatment plans tailored to each person’s needs and goals.

Reach Your Potential with PTSD Treatment

Clear Behavioral Health is dedicated to helping you start healing from PTSD and co-occurring substance use disorders. We understand the complexity of these conditions, which is why we offer a range of evidence-based modalities tailored to each individual’s unique needs.

Our approach is grounded in research and encompasses several evidence-based modalities, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and combining medication management with several available levels of care, from intensive outpatient programs to residential treatment options.

This continuum of care ensures that you receive the support you need at every stage of your recovery journey—and that you can stay in touch with your connections after the initial stages of treatment are complete.

If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD and co-occurring substance use disorders, and are looking for PTSD treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Contact Clear Behavioral Health today to learn more about our treatment options including mental health residential treatment, outpatient mental health programs, and virtual IOP for mental health. We also offer substance abuse programs such as medical detox and drug rehab as well as dual diagnosis outpatient programs.

Call us today to find out how our evidence-based therapy programs, comprehensive care, and specialized interventions can support you on the path to healing and transformation.

References:

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Www.nimh.nih.gov; National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd on May 28, 2024
  2. Mann, S. K., & Marwaha, R. (2023). Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559129/ on May 28, 2024
  3. Shalev, A. Y. (2009). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Stress-Related Disorders. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 32(3), 687–704. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2009.06.001 on May 28, 2024
  4. Giourou, E., Skokou, M., Andrew, S. P., Alexopoulou, K., Gourzis, P., & Jelastopulu, E. (2018). Complex posttraumatic stress disorder: The need to consolidate a distinct clinical syndrome or to reevaluate features of psychiatric disorders following interpersonal trauma? World Journal of Psychiatry, 8(1), 12–19. https://doi.org/10.5498/wjp.v8.i1.12 on May 28, 2024
  5. Mayo Clinic. (2022, December 13). Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mayo Clinic; Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967 on May 28, 2024
  6. The National Institute of Mental Health. (2023). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd on May 28, 2024
  7. Reisman, M. (2016). PTSD Treatment for Veterans: What’s Working, What’s New, and What’s Next. P & T: A Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, 41(10), 623–634. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5047000/ on May 28, 2024
  8. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). (2014). Understanding the impact of trauma. National Library of Medicine; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/ on May 28, 2024
  9. Watkins, L. E., Sprang, K. R., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2018). Treating PTSD: A review of evidence-based psychotherapy interventions. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12(258), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00258 on May 28, 2024
  10. Alexander, W. (2012). Pharmacotherapy for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder In Combat Veterans: Focus on Antidepressants and Atypical Antipsychotic Agents. P & T: A Peer-Reviewed Journal for Formulary Management, 37(1), 32–38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3278188/ on May 28, 2024

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