Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health disorder that can disrupt your entire life when left untreated. If you or your loved one are having trouble coping after a traumatic event, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.
Traditional treatments for PTSD consist of therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
Therapy for PTSD
According to the National Center for PTSD, these therapies have the best outcomes for PTSD treatment:
- Prolonged Exposure (PE)
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
These are all trauma-focused therapies, which means they involve processing the traumatic experience itself. Here is a brief description of each and what you can expect if you try one of these treatments.
Prolonged exposure (PE) is a technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It involves confronting trauma cues and thoughts gradually over time. This occurs both in the therapist’s office and in real life.
You will usually start by describing or retelling your trauma to the therapist. This is called “imaginal exposure.” You may do this orally or in writing, or both. Some therapists ask you to write down what happened and then read the story back to them. The point is to expose you to your trauma cues in a safe environment.
The other component of PE is “in vivo exposure,” where you confront your trauma cues in real life. Your therapist will never ask you to expose yourself to a dangerous situation, of course. Rather, in vivo exposure asks you to face normally harmless situations that are triggering your fear response. For example, if you’ve had a car accident and avoid the road where it happened, your in vivo exposure may consist of driving down that road once a week.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) allows you to process negative thoughts that have resulted from your trauma. It then teaches you how to challenge those beliefs and replace them with more helpful ones.
CPT starts with your therapist asking about your traumatic experience and how it’s influenced your view of yourself, others, and the world. You may be asked to write this down. You may also write down an account of the trauma. Your therapist will talk with you about your traumatic experience and will likely ask questions that challenge your current negative thoughts. Together with your therapist, you’ll develop a more realistic view of the traumatic events and the world around you.
An important component of CPT is practicing the skills you learn outside of therapy. The goal is to gradually change the way you process and understand traumatic events.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) relies on the Adaptive Information Processing model. This model teaches that PTSD is the result of traumatic memories not being processed fully. EMDR therapy uses the body’s own processing mechanisms to alleviate PTSD symptoms.
Most other therapies seek to change the thoughts surrounding the traumatic experience, but EMDR focuses on changing how the traumatic memories are stored in the brain. It accomplishes this through bilateral (right-left) stimulation such as eye movements or taps. In EMDR sessions, you will focus on your traumatic memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation. The goal is to reduce the vividness and emotion of your memories.
Other trauma-focused therapies include:
- Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy (BEP)
- Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)
- Written Narrative Exposure
Although the National Center for PTSD recommends using trauma-focused therapy, you can also use more traditional therapies such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You and your therapist should develop an individualized treatment plan that best addresses your needs.
Medications for PTSD
Two types of antidepressant medications are helpful for treating post-traumatic stress disorder: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Examples of medications you might take for PTSD include:
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
There are also a variety of alternative therapies that might help with PTSD, such as art and music therapy. While these treatments are often not sufficient on their own, they can be a great way to complement traditional methods.
How Long Does It Take to Treat PTSD?
Mental health treatment is personalized to your unique needs, so the length of PTSD treatment varies widely. The National Institute of Mental Health gives an estimated treatment length of 6 to 12 weeks for talk therapy. Your therapy might be shorter or longer depending on your personal situation and treatment goals.
How Do I Get Help for PTSD?
When it comes to seeking treatment, you might feel overwhelmed or not know where to start. Here are a couple of ideas for seeking PTSD help.
Get a Mental Health Assessment
A good starting place is to get a formal diagnosis of PTSD so you can formulate a treatment plan with your doctor or mental health care provider.
Research Mental Health Services Near You
Searching terms like “ptsd treatment near me” and “mental health treatment in my area” will show you many local results. As you learn more about each program, you can get an idea of which one may be right for you.
Talk to Your Doctor
Your primary care provider is a great resource for finding mental health care. They can make treatment suggestions and offer referrals to specialists like psychiatrists or psychologists.
Can PTSD Be Cured?
As with most mental health disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder can be a chronic condition. However, it can be successfully managed with proper treatment. Doctors seek to manage symptoms rather than “cure” this disorder. This doesn’t mean your quality of life will be diminished because of your condition – effective help is available. If you or a loved one is having a hard time coping with a traumatic event, consider getting help from a mental health treatment provider.
PTSD Treatment in the Philadelphia Area
The Light Program offers mental health treatment services throughout eastern Pennsylvania, including:
- Philadelphia (Center City and Northeast)
See the rest of our locations to find the closest one to you. Or, contact our admissions department to begin your healing.