Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen after a deeply threatening or scary event. Even if you didn’t directly experience the trauma, the shock of it can be so great that you have a hard time living a normal life. People with PTSD can have insomnia, flashbacks, loss of self-esteem, and a lot of emotional distress. You might constantly relive the event -- or lose your memory of it altogether.
If you have PTSD, it might feel like you’ll never get your life back. But treatment is available -- certain kinds of psychotherapy and medications can work very well. PTSD therapy has three main goals: to improve your symptoms, teach you coping skills, and bring back your self-esteem.
Most PTSD therapies fall under the umbrella of cognitive behavioral therapy. That involves trying to change the thought patterns that are disturbing your life. This might happen through talking about your trauma or concentrating on where your fears come from. If you’re living with PTSD, there are a number of other options, too. This article examines several short-term therapies for this condition.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
This is a 12-week course of treatment, with weekly sessions of 60 to 90 minutes. At first, you’ll talk about the traumatic event with your therapist and discuss how your thoughts about it have affected your life. Then you’ll write in detail about the event. You’ll examine how you think about your trauma and figure out new ways to cope with it.
For example, maybe you’ve been blaming yourself for something that was beyond your control. Your therapist will help you consider all the facts and move forward with the knowledge that the trauma wasn’t your fault.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)
This involves eight to 15 sessions, usually 90 minutes each. If you’ve been avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event, PE will help you confront them.
Early on in treatment, your therapist will teach you breathing techniques to ease your anxiety when you think about your trauma. Later, you’ll make a list of the things you’ve been avoiding and learn how to face them, one by one. In another session, you’ll recount your traumatic experience to your therapist, then go home and listen to a recording of yourself. Doing this as “homework” over time may help to ease your symptoms.
Eye Movement and Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
This therapy requires about 3 months of weekly sessions. You might not have to tell your therapist about the traumatic experience. Instead, you concentrate on it while you watch or listen to something the therapist is doing (maybe moving a hand, flashing a light, or making a sound). The goal is to be able to think about something positive while you remember your trauma.
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)
SIT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that also lasts for 3 months. You can do it by yourself or in a group. You won’t be asked to go into detail about your traumatic experience. The focus is more on changing how you deal with the stress from the event. You might learn massage and breathing techniques, and other ways to stop negative thoughts by relaxing your mind and body. In the end, you’ll have the skills to remove unneeded stress from your life.
Antidepressants are the most useful medications for PTSD. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Zoloft and Paxil for PTSD treatment. Doctors often prescribe Prozac and Effexor, too. They believe antidepressants work by rebalancing chemicals in the brain that affect how we cope with stress.
Your doctor might also prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or Minipress, a medication that can help with nightmares and insomnia. These are meant to be short-term options to get you over the worst of your symptoms.
Your doctor or therapist might prescribe medications on their own, or you might use them along with therapy. Depending on your situation, group or family therapy might be a good choice for you instead of individual sessions. And because PTSD is often linked with problems like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, you should always get treatment for both issues at the same time.