Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe kind of anxiety disorder. It typically occurs after the patient has undergone a devastating tragedy, horrifying event, or faced a grave threat to their well-being. Understandably so, PTSD is ubiquitous in war and military veterans, especially those who have served on the battlefield.
However, even people who are not directly involved in traumatic events can develop PTSD while absorbing patients’ shock and unpleasant emotions. PTSD can drastically impair life quality, trigger a disturbing array of overlapping symptoms, and lead to substance abuse.
Some common signs and symptoms include traumatic flashbacks, lack of self-esteem, unpleasant emotions, and insomnia. Patients can also lose chunks or all of their memory in severe cases. Some patients find themselves reliving painful memories in dreams or reality.
Seeking treatment for PTSD isn’t easy, especially since most patients believe that they are incurable and hopeless. Therefore, the responsibility of staging an intervention falls on caregivers and family members. In reality, PTSD is curable, and there are several effective treatments and emerging therapies that hold great promise.
These treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy, help reduce and eliminate disturbing symptoms. Keep reading to explore some practical ways to treat PTSD.
With therapy, practitioners aim to improve PTSD symptoms, help patients develop coping mechanisms, and elevate their self-esteem. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a profound influence on nearly all treatments designed to treat PTSD.
The aim is to alter depressive and disturbing thought patterns and discuss the patient’s trauma and fears to encourage rationality. Doctors can prescribe group or family therapy, or individual counseling, depending on the patient’s condition.
Very few medicines have exhibited an effective response in treating PTSD. For years, psychotherapy has remained a popular first-line treatment, but psychiatric and medical comorbidity rates remain high. In the quest to research and develop new pharmaceutical drugs, researchers have found great promise in the potential of psychedelics.
Experts believe that administering psychedelics for PTSD in highly-controlled settings is a promising new approach. Previously regarded as recreational drugs, several psychedelics have made significant breakthroughs in psychiatric research. For instance, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated MDMA and psilocybin as “breakthrough therapies” for treating PTSD.
There is a large volume of research that examines the efficacy of MDMA and psilocybin in clinical settings. These psychedelics have proven effective at treating other stress-induced disorders, such as treatment-resistant depression. Psychiatric researchers are also exploring the potential of other psychedelics, notably LSD and ayahuasca. While existing research is observational, experts believe that these two agents have tremendous therapeutic potential to treat certain psychiatric disorders. Nowadays there are even special ayahuasca retreats that are offering promises of attempts of effective recovery from some hard-to-treat mental health conditions. Especially now when every day there is more research backing up the claims.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a popular treatment to help PTSD patients reason and overcome unpleasant emotions. CPT is a 12-week treatment course, with weekly sessions spanning over 60-90 minutes. Initially, the sessions focus on discussing the traumatic events and thought processes that contribute to the symptoms. Then, the patient has to write a detailed account of everything that transpired during the events. This writing exercise is crucial to help the patient examine how the patient thinks about the trauma and how to process it differently. It allows patients to regard their sufferings in a new light, identify ways to cope with them, heal, and move forward.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
Most PTSD patients struggle to avoid all memorabilia, surfaces, and locations that remind them of their trauma. However, prolonged exposure therapy (PET) aims to help patients confront their fears and overcome them with logic and reasoning. Typically, PET involves 8-15 sessions, spanning over 90 minutes.
Initially, the sessions focus on breathing techniques and anxiety alleviation strategies to combat stress and unpleasant emotions. Patients recall their traumatic events and make a list of all the things they avoid. Then, the therapist helps patients face all these things, one after the other.
After the initial sessions are over, therapists start exploring the traumatic events, and patients take home a recording to listen to themselves.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
A distinctive therapy to treat PTSD, EMDR does not involve narrating your traumatic experiences to a therapist. Instead, patients attempt to concentrate on their unpleasant emotions while watching or listening to something. For instance, the therapist can flash a light or make certain sounds. The goal of EMDR is to induce positive emotions while recalling trauma. This therapy spans over three months with weekly sessions.
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)
This is a popular form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Patients can perform stress inoculation training (SIT) themselves or seek out professional support. SIT usually happens in groups, and patients don’t have to ponder over painful details. It aims to help patients find new ways to deal with the stress and anxiety associated with traumatic events.
Patients are introduced to new breathing techniques, massages, and strategies to overcome negative thoughts. Therapists help patients achieve complete physical and mental relaxation and cultivate skills to release stress effectively.
Treating PTSD with Medication
Research reveals that patients with PTSD process threats differently, given the “imbalance” of brain neurotransmitters. Experts explain that PTSD patients have a readily activated “fight or flight” mechanism, which makes them agitated, jumpy, and jittery. The constant struggle to shut off this mechanism can induce unpleasant emotions.
Medication help patients avoid disturbing thoughts and alter their reactions to traumatic events. They help patients develop a positive outlook and alleviate symptoms of painful memories, flashbacks, and nightmares. Mostly, doctors prescribe drugs that alter and balance the chemistry of neurotransmitters in the brain. Psychiatrists typically recommend medication that influences serotonin or norepinephrine. These SSRIs include Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, and others. So far, the FDA has only approved Zoloft and Paroxetine for treating PTSD. It is also common for doctors to prescribe “off-label” medications to help patients manage overlapping symptoms. These include antidepressants, beta-blocks, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and antipsychotics.
It is pertinent to mention here that there is no one-fits-all solution because each patient has unique symptoms. Also, always consult an expert before starting the medication.
As a PTSD patient, one continually struggles against hopelessness and revisiting the trauma of devastating grief and shock. Seeking treatment is not easy, and patients don’t usually have faith in their ability to recover and improve. Experts strongly believe that the breakthrough lies in the patient’s ability to speak about their experiences.
Speaking is most helpful in groups of patients diagnosed with PTSD. Group therapy is a powerful treatment course, as it introduces patients to other PSTD sufferers who can relate with them. Several PTSD communities support rape victims, war veterans, and people who have suffered bereavements.
It is essential to take the first step towards asking for help. The rest of the journey gets easier from that point onwards.