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).