Reaching out for help is often thought to be the hardest part of the journey to improvement for mental illness. However, what is often not considered is the complex and overwhelming amount of treatment options . As someone seeking treatment for the first time, finding an option that is accessible, manageable, and effective can be confusing and difficult. When it comes to treatment for PTSD, there are a lot of options; some of which may work, some of which may not. Depending on the root cause of one’s PTSD as well as their symptoms, treatment may vary, and it may take time to find the right one. For many patients, it is not a matter of the treatment not working, it is a matter of finding the right one for them. As one individual with PTSD put it, treatment can be life saving. “I’m no longer at the mercy of my PTSD, and I would not be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. It’s never too late to seek help” (Philips, 2018).
The most common, and often most effective, treatment for PTSD is psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Although it may sound simple, psychotherapy can exist in a variety of forms. Trauma-focused therapies for PTSD have proved to be effective, as they help work through the specific traumatic event (or events) that has caused the PTSD as well as the memories, emotions, and meaning behind it. Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT) are the basis for most recommended psychotherapies by the American Psychological Association for PTSD. CBT is centered around changing harmful patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT is effective because it focuses on all aspects of the symptoms of PTSD including thoughts and behaviors. A typical session of CBT may involve talking through a traumatic memory and attempting to adjust the thoughts and feelings surrounding it. This can happen in a variety of ways depending on the approach taken by the mental health professional. For example, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a type of CBT designed for treating PTSD, focuses on challenging negative thoughts and beliefs about the trauma; essentially creating a new perspective of the traumatic event(s). Another form of CBT, Cognitive Therapy, focuses on relieving negative feelings, like guilt, surrounding the traumatic event(s) as well as coming up with effective ways to challenge recurring thoughts and behaviors.
Perhaps the most intimidating, but also one of the most effective forms of therapy for PTSD is prolonged exposure therapy. Prolonged exposure therapy involves slowly facing the fearful memories, feelings, and situations associated with the trauma with the support of a mental health professional. The end goal of prolonged exposure therapy is to overcome negative feelings and fears of situations associated with the trauma(s).
Often used as a supplement to psychotherapy, medication can be a helpful and important tool in the treatment process. Many people with PTSD are reluctant to explore pharmaceutical options because of common misconceptions about mental health medications and potential side effects. However, drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common and effective medications used to treat PTSD. These include brand names like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, and Effexor. They work by increasing the levels and the effect of serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical) in the brain that affects sleep, mood, and emotions. Increased levels of serotonin in the brain can alleviate PTSD symptoms including nightmares, poor sleep, and panic attacks among others. Psychiatrist, Dr. David Graham, describes taking medication as a volume knob being turned down. Although it may not entirely eliminate symptoms, things may become a lot more manageable.
With PTSD affecting so many people, there are a lot of questions and studies exploring what future treatment possibilities may be. Some recent suggestions have ranged from acupuncture to reliving a traumatic event through virtual reality, to taking ecstacy. Although some of these options may seem unconventional, there has been some evidence to show they and some others have been effective at treating PTSD. The most promising new treatment for PTSD is the use of an injectable drug known as stellate ganglion block (SGB). SGB has previously been used in the treatment of chronic pain. Some results of SGB treatment have been extremely promising, reducing symptoms like angry outbursts, hyperarousal, and avoidance associated with PTSD (Lynch, 2016). Although it is still in an early stage of research, SGB holds promise for the future treatment of PTSD.
In the overwhelming realm of PTSD symptoms and treatments, there should be one constant: hope. Treatment is a tool. Between various types of psychotherapy, medications, and new and developing treatments, it can be overwhelming. Exploring options for treatment is the first step to feeling better. There is constant stigma and stereotypes surrounding PTSD and PTSD treatment, making it difficult to seek help. There needs to be more conversation about PTSD, connecting and making people aware of the resources they may need.
American Psychological Association (2017). PTSD Treatments. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/
Lynch, J. H., Mulvaney, S. W., Kim, E. H., de Leeuw, J. B., Schroeder, M. J., & Kane, S. F. (2016). Effect of stellate ganglion block on specific symptom clusters for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Military Medicine, 181(9), 1135–1141. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.7205/MILMED-D-15-00518
National Health Service (2018). Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ssri-antidepressants/
Philips, P.K. (2018). My Story of Survival: Battling PTSD. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/personal-stories/my-story-survival-battling-ptsd
Tull, M. (2020). How is PTSD Treated? Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/ptsd-treatment-2797659
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.) Medications for PTSD. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/meds_for_ptsd.asp
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d). PTSD Treatment Basics. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/tx_basics.asp
Whitaker, B. (2019). SGB: A Possible Breakthrough Treatment for PTSD. CBS. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sgb-a-possible-breakthrough-treatment-for-ptsd-60-minutes-2019-06-16/