There are several approved methods for treating PTSD including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and medications that inhibit serotonin reuptake.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy includes Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE). With CPT, you examine the thoughts about the trauma and work to understand and challenge the way those thoughts make you feel. CPT has four main parts:
- Learning about your PTSD symptoms and how treatment can help
- Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings
- Learning skills to challenge your thoughts and feelings
- Understanding the common changes in beliefs that occur after going through trauma
With Prolonged Exposure Therapy you and a therapist will look at the situations you have been avoiding and confront them until the distress decreases. PE also has four parts:
- Education to learn about the symptoms and treatments
- Breathing retraining so you can relax and manage your distress
- Real world practice to reduce your distress in those situations you’ve been avoiding
- Talking through the trauma to gain control of your thoughts and feelings about the trauma
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) helps you focus on hand movements or tapping while you talk about the traumatic event. While it may seem overly simple, the idea is that your eye movements make it easier for your brain to work through traumatic memories. Focusing on hand movements or sounds while talking about the trauma may help change how you react to memories of the trauma over time.
EMDR has four parts too:
- Identification of a target memory, image, and belief about the trauma
- Desensitization and reprocessing which involves focusing on mental images while doing eye movements that the therapist has taught you
- Installing positive thoughts and images, once the negative images are no long distressing
- Body scan where you focus on tension or unusual sensations in the body, to identify additional issues you may need to address
Medications that are used to treat PTSD raise the level of serotonin in your brain, which can help you feel better. There are two SSRIs that are currently approved by the FDA for PTSD treatment: sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil). There are some side effects that may occur:
- Decreased interest in sex
- Feeling drowsy, tired, or sleeping too much
PTSD medications may interact with other medications, so check with your doctor first.
Over time, these treatments can help you cope with your PTSD so it no longer rules your life.
(From “Understanding PTSD Treatment” by the National Center for PTSD).
A veteran I knew once asked me if I thought God would ever forgive him for the things he did when he served in Vietnam. I was somewhat startled by the question as that was over 40 years earlier. My word! How terrible it must be to carry guilt with you for that long, every day feeling the burden of things you’d done years ago.
As he was of the Christian faith, my response was to remind him that Jesus even forgave Judas and the men who crucified him. That seemed to bring him some comfort, but over the next few months, we began to explore the source of his guilty feelings and work through some of that angsts.
Back when he first enlisted, he was only a boy. He’d had to get permission from his parents to join while he was only 17 years old. He went to Vietnam and fought, and he told me that he had done things to survive that caused him great shame. We talked about that; the key was that he was trying to survive, he was young and didn’t have any choice in what he did. He actually did the best he could and he was successful in surviving.
I believe he came to terms with some of those feelings and finally found some peace. I hope I helped with that process, but it reminds me how much we all need to be gentle with ourselves and forgive ourselves at times. Wartime behavior is not normal behavior. It is a time of insanity and trying to survive. Be willing to forgive yourself and know that you did the very best you could at the time. I, for one, am very glad you made it home.
I guess I’m not surprised at the number of veterans who don’t know they have benefits coming to them through the VA. They are hardly focused on paperwork when they are headed home!
In addition, there is often confusion over exactly what it is that Disability Compensation through the VA will pay for. I’ve seen many veterans who believed that any medical problem they had meant their benefit amount would be raised. That’s not true though.
Disability Compensation is a tax free monetary benefit paid to Veterans with disabilities that are the result of a disease or injury incurred or aggravated during active military service. Compensation may also be paid for post-service disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service. Generally, the degrees of disability specified are also designed to compensate for considerable loss of working time from exacerbations or illnesses.
The benefit amount is determined according to the degree of the Veteran’s disability based on a scale from 10 percent to 100 percent (in increments of 10 percent). Compensation may also be paid for disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service. Generally, the degrees of disability specified are also designed to compensate for considerable loss of working time from exacerbations or illnesses.
If you have dependents, an additional allowance may be added if your combined disability is rated 30% or greater. Your compensation may be offset if you receive military retirement pay, disability severance pay, or separation incentive payments.
A veteran must be determined to be eligible to receive benefits. Eligibility is based on:
- Service in the Uniformed Services on active duty, OR
- Active duty for training, OR
- Inactive duty training, AND
- You were discharged under other than dishonorable conditions, AND
- You are at least 10% disabled by an injury or disease that was incurred in or aggravated during active duty or active duty for training, or inactive duty training
Evidence is required to support the veteran’s claim:
- Medical evidence of a current physical or mental disability, AND
- Evidence of a relationship between your disability and an injury, disease, or event in military service. Medical records or medical opinions are required to establish this relationship.
Note: Under certain circumstances, VA may conclude that certain current disabilities were caused by service, even if there is no specific evidence proving this in your particular claim. The cause of a disability is presumed for the following Veterans who have certain diseases.
Presumed disability status may be granted for:
- Former prisoners of war
- Veterans who have certain chronic or tropical diseases that become evident within a specific period of time after discharge from service
- Veterans who were exposed to ionizing radiation, mustard gas, or Lewisite while in service
- Veterans who were exposed to certain herbicides, such as by serving in Vietnam
- Veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War
Those of us who already are believers and are pet owners know that pets are good for the soul. Science is just catching on and is starting to reflect that pets provide us with a lot more than laughs and love. One study, published in 1980, found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Another study found that petting a dog can lower blood pressure.
Some of the other benefits of pet ownership may include:
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Reduce feelings of isolation or alienation
- Helping cope with serious illness or death
- Encouraging participation in sports and hobbies
- Less frequent visits to the doctor
- Lowering triglyceride and cholesterol levels
- Increasing exercise
- The tactile stimulation involved in animal companionship provides a pleasurable form of neurological stimulation that encourages relaxation and well-being
- The experience of being emotionally engaged in a relationship with a companion animal may foster growth in emotional maturity and self-awareness
- Victims of trauma may perceive animals as less threatening than people and may be instrumental in the redevelopment of trust in others
- Companion animals encourage social interaction among the people around them, promoting a more interactive social environment
That’s pretty good evidence toward the benefit of having a pet in your life! In addition, having a pet seems to aid in reducing pain, although more research is needed on why this happens.
At the University of Missouri, the College of Veterinary Medicine have conducted studies focusing on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin which help us feel happy and trusting. There may also be other health benefits.
In working with veterans, I have seen the power of owning and developing a relationship with an animal work wonders. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a dog, cat, horse or other less- traditional animal. What matters is the pet can be trusted, and will love and accept the owner regardless of anything that’s happened in the past.