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Treatment for PTSD

PTSD can be treated. With treatment, trauma survivors can feel safe in the world and live productive lives. Effective treatments for PTSD include different types of talk therapy (psychotherapy) or medicine.

Talk therapy

Talk therapy that is focused on trauma is the most effective type of talk therapy for PTSD. There are different kinds of trauma-focused talk therapy but the ones listed below have the most research support. They are:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). You learn to change upsetting thoughts and feelings you have had since your trauma.

  • Prolonged Exposure (PE). You gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations that you have been avoiding since your trauma.

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). You process and make sense of your trauma while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger-waving side to side, a light, or a tone).

In each of these talk therapies, you’ll meet with a therapist once a week for 60-90 minutes. Your therapist will teach you specific skills to help you manage your PTSD symptoms. These talk therapies usually last for 3 to 4 months. Then, if you still have symptoms, you and your therapist can talk about ways to manage them.

There are other types of trauma-focused talk therapies that are recommended for people with PTSD.

Medicine for PTSD symptoms

There are medicines that are helpful in treating PTSD symptoms. Some of the same medicines are used for symptoms of depression and anxiety. These are antidepressant medicines called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). These medicines affect the level of naturally occurring chemicals in the brain called serotonin and/or norepinephrine. The chemicals play a role in brain cell communication and affect how you feel. Only certain SSRIs and SNRIs are effective for PTSD symptoms.

If you decide to try one of these medicines, it will be prescribed for you. You will meet with your mental healthcare provider every few months or so. Your response to the medicine will be monitored, including side effects, and your dose will be changed, if needed.

Other treatment options

There are some other talk therapies and medicines that may be helpful. Some talk therapies do not focus on the traumatic event, but do help you process your reactions to the trauma and manage symptoms related to PTSD. These talk therapies may be a good option if you are not interested in trauma-focused talk therapy, or if it is not available.

  • Stress inoculation training (SIT). A cognitive-behavioral therapy that teaches skills and techniques to manage stress and reduce anxiety.

  • Present-centered therapy (PCT). A talk therapy that focuses on current life problems that are related to PTSD.

  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT). A talk therapy that focuses on the impact of trauma on interpersonal relationships.

  • Trauma-focused psychotherapies. These include: Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy (BEP), Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET), Written Narrative Exposure, and specific cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs) for PTSD.

There are other treatment options that may help you, but there isn't strong research to support them at this time. They include:

  • Yoga

  • Meditation

  • Acupuncture

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

  • Online treatment programs

You and your healthcare provider can discuss the benefits and risks of these options to determine whether or not they are right for you.

Choosing a treatment

No one treatment is right for everyone. You can discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider and determine which ones are best for you based on the benefits, risks, and side effects of each treatment. Some people are uncomfortable with seeking treatment because of concerns with stigma or worries about having to talk about difficult life experiences. However, treatment provides the opportunity to improve symptoms, relationships, and quality of life.

For more information

PTSD Treatment Decision Aid  

National Center for PTSD   


Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 2/1/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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