Published On: April 5, 2022
Reviewed On: April 5, 2022
Updated On: July 14, 2023
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that results after someone has a traumatic experience. Many people mistakenly believe PTSD only affects veterans and people serving in the military. The reality is, though, anyone can develop this type of anxiety disorder.
In fact, it’s estimated that up to 15 million people have experienced or are living with PTSD currently in the U.S. This prevalence begs the question: How do you treat PTSD?
The best way to treat PTSD generally includes a combination of types of therapy for PTSD, behavioral training, and medication. A treatment plan for PTSD may include:
It’s important to note that PTSD treatment can differ from person to person. The primary goals of treatment are to alleviate the debilitating effects that most people experience. Targeted outcomes include:
Read on to learn how to treat PTSD, so you can get back to living your life after receiving a PTSD diagnosis.
Unlike many of the Hollywood myths created by movies and TV, pharmaceuticals are typically not the first step in addressing PTSD. Rather, the majority of people first engage in psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) when they begin treatment.
During therapy, you can open up about your PTSD from emotional abuse or PTSD caused by a traumatic experience. Your therapist can help you learn effective coping techniques aimed at helping you manage your PTSD anxiety so you can live a healthy, productive life.
“Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is highly recommended as a first stage treatment for PTSD. In this type of therapy, you work with a therapist to set goals and develop new skills to manage the negative symptoms associated with the trauma.”
Psychotherapy is a broad term that’s used for multiple therapy techniques that can help people overcome mental health conditions like PTSD. It focuses on allowing you to identify and manage negative thoughts and behaviors that cause you distress. Different categories of talk therapy will focus on specific techniques, goals, and formats to encourage healing.
“Therapy can help you make sense of the trauma, learn skills and better ways to deal with the trauma, and understand the symptoms associated with it. Therapy can also help you feel more in control over what happened to you, reconnect with people you may have pushed away, and help you set positive goals for yourself to move past the trauma.”
There’s no single, default approach to treating PTSD. Instead, a variety of tools and methodologies are applied. Figuring out: how do you treat PTSD and which type of psychotherapy will offer the most effective treatment possible will depend on you, your PTSD symptoms, and the severity of your condition.
For some, talk therapy alone can be sufficient. For others, a combination of therapy, monitoring, and even PTSD medication can be applied. In order to know which treatment option is best for you, it can help to first understand a little bit about the different types of therapy that are most effective.
One of the most common and effective types of therapy to treat PTSD is cognitive processing therapy (CPT). It’s frequently an initial-stage PTSD treatment.
CPT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and it focuses on helping change how you think about memories and past events. In the case of PTSD, you’d focus on the disturbing aspects of the trauma you experienced.
As you learn to stop reliving the trauma, you can begin to let go and move on from it. For many people, this trauma treatment starts off with individual sessions, but it can also be applied in group and family sessions as well.
“Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) teaches you to reframe your negative thoughts and to reframe the trauma so that you feel more in control.”
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that helps you process the aspects of trauma that are haunting you.
EMDR differs from some other types of psychotherapy in that it doesn’t aim to change how you think, feel, or respond to your trauma. Rather, it helps you resolve any traumatic memory that you haven’t yet processed. For many people, a benefit of EMDR is that it can be effective in fewer sessions than some other forms of therapy.
During an EMDR session, you focus on something specific — say, a hand movement, a light flickering, or a targeted sound. Your focus would create a distraction that allows you to move through the memory of your trauma without letting it take hold of you.
EMDR can be particularly effective if you’re the type of person who finds it difficult to verbally discuss the details of your memories.
“Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that involves a back-and-forth movement or playing a sound while the trauma is being revisited.”
Stress inoculation therapy (SIT) helps you learn how to use positive practices to block out focusing on negative memories. This could be applied through breathing techniques, body relaxation, massage, or meditation.
A type of CBT, SIT helps you develop coping skills to manage the anxiety that results from the things that trigger your PTSD. Of course, the first step in utilizing SIT is to identify your triggers, which you do while working in a safe environment with a skilled therapist.
Prolonged exposure therapy is yet another type of CBT. It takes the approach that negative reactions to a traumatic event or memory will not go away on their own. Thus, you need to learn practices that can help you control the impact and severity of how your trauma is affecting you.
PE can be extremely effective if you’re struggling with avoidance as a result of your PTSD. By slowly being exposed to your fears, memories, and anxiety — all in a safe, controlled environment — you can overcome the disruptive feelings you have when faced with your fears. As your tolerance and confidence build, exposure will increase, until you’re at the point where your fear isn’t controlling you.
Over time, your brain begins to compartmentalize and rationalize what you’re afraid of, and the impact of that traumatic memory becomes less and less of a distraction.
“Some trauma-focused psychotherapies include prolonged exposure therapy (PE). This type of therapy teaches you to control your negative feelings. it involves you talking about the trauma.”
Medication for PTSD can be used — most often in conjunction with therapy — to reduce symptoms and help you manage your anxiety.
Depending on your condition and severity, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication, antidepressants (SSRIs), mood stabilizers, or alpha-1 blockers to treat your PTSD. Many of the medicines used for PTSD are relaxants or sedatives in nature. They can help by reducing anxiety, sensitivity, and irritability.
It’s important to note that medication only addresses PTSD symptoms, and not the source of PTSD. Also worth discussing is the fact that many medications can become addictive without proper management and limitation of use. Connect with an in-person or online psychiatrist to find the best treatment options for your needs.
Today, the FDA has only approved the use of Paroxetine (Paxil) or Sertraline (Zoloft) to treat PTSD. However, other medications can be used for addressing side effects as well. Some of them aim to relax you enough that direct therapy treatments can be effective. In some cases, beta-blockers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants can be used as well.
“Medications to treat PTSD include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) types of antidepressant medication. Some recommendations include: Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil), Fluoxetine (Prozac), and Venlafaxine (Effexor).”
For some people, the best way to treat PTSD if you don’t want to go the medication route might be to try healing from PTSD naturally or using holistic treatment.
Much of the approach involves seeking a re-establishment of a personal balance, both in mind and body. While some critics argue holistic techniques don’t measure up to western medical scientific approaches, many people who’ve gone the holistic route now swear by it for their own stability and recovery.
Some popular holistic PTSD treatments include:
“Holistic treatments such as incorporating meditation, yoga, and journaling can be healing when treating PTSD. Working with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in trauma can be extremely supportive in your healing journey.”
One of the main benefits of holistic treatments is they can be learned, applied, and used for the rest of your life. Meditation, for example, is a well-practiced technique that teaches you to use breathing techniques for relaxation and mind-clearing benefits.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with PTSD, you might feel like you’ll never get back to normal life. Knowing how to treat PTSD allows you to have hope for your future. Many people have been very successful at managing PTSD when a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and holistic healing methods are used. Learn if you are dealing with PTSD today with our online PTSD test.
Talkspace offers online therapy with skilled mental health professionals who can help you learn to cope with your PTSD in the workplace, at home, or in your day-to-day.. Our innovative, alternative approach to mental health lets you get the therapy you need without the hassle of going to an office.
If you’re looking for therapy to treat your PTSD, reach out today to learn more about how Talkspace can help. You don’t have to live with the pain and stress of PTSD.
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Dr. Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW is a Therapist and Peer Consultant at Talkspace. She is a California born - Florida based Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Central Florida. Her areas of research, teaching and practice include the intersection of race, gender and ability, intimate partner violence and trauma recovery, and access to culturally responsive mental health treatment for Black women and Deaf women.