Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Within the last month, have you avoided people, places or things that remind you of a stressful experience that you’ve had? Have you been bothered by repeated, unwanted or disturbing dreams or memories of the stressful event? Has your mood or the way you interact with family or friends changed? Have you been on edge about things that never used to bother you? These may be symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). What do you do? Where do you turn?
Make an appointment with your doctor so you can discuss what you’re feeling and get a medical opinion about what you have. Let’s assume that your doctor gives you a preliminary diagnosis of PTSD. The next thing he tells you is that he wants you to see a mental health professional to further evaluate your symptoms. Additionally, if PTSD is confirmed, your doctor wants this mental health specialist to treat you for the disorder.
Lots of questions are, or should be running through your head about now. Why should I get treatment? When should I get it? Where can I get it? What does this treatment look like? How long does it take? And, will it work?
The answers to your “why” and “when” questions can be found in your personal behavior and moods. PTSD symptoms can affect your life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. They can affect your personal life and cause you to withdraw from your natural support system, your family. They change how you view, interact with and perceive the people and the world around you. “When” is now. The longer you wait the more severe and unpredictable your symptoms can become and they will cause greater interference with your quality and enjoyment of life.
The treatments that are available for PTSD include talk therapy (in either individual or group form), antidepressants, support groups and other medications. Your recovery may include one or more of these options. How you proceed will depend upon what you and your therapist agree upon and how you progress.
Talk therapy can take a number of forms. Immediately following the traumatic event, grief counseling has proven useful in assisting people cope with their natural reactions to a loss or major life-altering event and the corresponding changes that the event brings to their lives. If your traumatic event is unusually severe or complicated, grief therapy, which is a form of psychotherapy, may be used. This type of therapy utilizes clinical tools to assist in addressing your response to the traumatic event. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps to resolve current problems by changing destructive behavior and thinking. Exposure therapy is used to help you process your memories of and the cues you get from your traumatic event. In this type of therapy, you will be exposed to the traumatic event without its companion danger, so you will get used to the event without the fear you previously associated with it. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) combines exposure therapy with a series of eye movements that help you process and reduce the impact of traumatic memories.
Antidepressants can help treat your PTSD symptoms. Paxil and Zoloft are, as of this writing, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of PTSD. There are other antidepressants, anti-anxiety and mood stabilizing drugs that are available with a doctor’s prescription. You should discuss what medical treatment your health care provider recommends.
The length and effectiveness of your treatment for PTSD are both in your hands and those of your therapist and physician. You should consult with your physician and therapist to establish a timeline for your therapy and get a general idea of how long it will take to feel better.