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Mental Health Center

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Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

If you have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or are at risk of the condition, make an appointment with a qualified mental health professional who has experience treating patients with PTSD. Diagnosis is based on a report of your history in the aftermath of a life-threatening or violent trauma. The health care provider will ask questions about your symptoms; ask you to describe the traumatic event; ask about your childhood, educational, and work experiences; and relationships with others.

PTSD may also include:

  • Acute stress disorder: symptoms occurring within four weeks of the trauma
  • PTSD with delayed expression : the full collection of symptoms does not appear until at least six months after the trauma
  • PTSD preschool type: applies to children less than 6 years old

Other disorders that often accompany PTSD are depression, other anxiety disorders, and alcohol or drug abuse. You may be evaluated for these conditions as well.


What Are the Treatments for PTSD?

Psychotherapy for PTSD

Various forms of psychotherapy are helpful in PTSD.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps a person learn behavioral techniques for relaxation and restructure patterns of thinking that foster anxiety.
  • Exposure therapy involves systematically exposing someone to the memories and events associated with a trauma and reducing the fear response to these events, under the guidance of a trained therapist.
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) involves presenting the patient with various visual and tactile stimuli meant to release emotional experiences and free the mind of blockages.

In addition, support groups help people with PTSD work through their feelings with others who have had similar experiences.

The goal of therapy is to encourage the patient to recall all details of the event, express grief, complete the mourning process, and get on with life. For children, this may involve play therapy.

Medications for PTSD

Although benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Xanax, and Ativan, are commonly prescribed for short-term, immediate relief of anxiety symptoms associated with PTSD, some authorities warn against their use because their value for treating PTSD symptoms has not been well-established . Long-term use of these medications is strongly discouraged.

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