PTSD Treatment: Know Your Options

So, you’ve been
diagnosed with PTSD — posttraumatic stress disorder. You might be thinking, ‘Does
therapy for PTSD really work?’ Or, ‘What about medications?’ Well, there are treatments that
work, and you have choices. We’re going to show you
PTSD treatments that are evidence-based, which means
they’ve been proven to work in multiple scientific studies. Two of the most effective
PTSD treatments are Cognitive Processing Therapy and
Prolonged Exposure. Both are cognitive behavioral
therapies, CBT for short. CBT is far from just
talking; you’ll learn skills to manage your PTSD symptoms. Cognitive Processing Therapy
teaches you how to change negative thoughts
about your trauma, which can have a big
impact on how you feel. Prolonged Exposure helps
you confront memories and situations you’ve been
avoiding since your trauma. This gets easier with time,
and eventually you won’t need to avoid them. Another effective
therapy is EMDR, which involves thinking about
images and feelings that distress you while doing
rapid eye movements. This can help you change how
you react to trauma memories. Therapies like these usually
take 3 to 4 months of weekly visits – and improvement
can last for years. Medications are another
effective option. The best medications for
treating PTSD symptoms are antidepressants, specifically
SSRIs and SNRIs. Antidepressants work by helping
brain cells communicate better, and that can
make you feel better. Improvements in your PTSD
symptoms will last for as long as you keep
taking them. You might have heard about
benzodiazepines, or benzos. In the past, doctors
prescribed these anti-anxiety medications for PTSD. New research shows anti-anxiety
medications may interfere with therapy and do not improve PTSD. These medications can also
lead to harmful side effects, like confusion, fogginess,
and accidents or falls. If you’re taking benzodiazepines
or other medications with potentially harmful side effects
— like atypical antipsychotics — talk to your doctor
about whether you should safely stop them. There are more effective
options for PTSD. It’s common to have other
problems at the same time you have PTSD, like chronic pain,
depression, substance abuse, a history of traumatic
brain injury, or insomnia. Often, treatments effective
for PTSD can help with these problems too. In other cases, your
doctor might suggest an additional treatment. For example, there’s a special
type of cognitive behavioral therapy called CBT-I —
the “I” is for insomnia. CBT-I teaches you skills
that can improve your sleep, even after just a few
therapy appointments. Some antidepressants
can help with sleep too, and there is a medication
called prazosin specifically for nightmares. So, where do you start? Talk to your provider about
which effective treatment options are right for you
— therapy, medications, or maybe both. And remember, it’s always
important to talk to your doctor before stopping or
switching medications. For more information, visit
the National Center for PTSD website at To find a mental
health provider, click the “Get Help
for PTSD” button. Or, see success
stories at AboutFace.