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Other Treatments for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

In addition to medicines, other treatments are available to help you manage PTSD. These include the following:

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you examine your feelings and thought patterns. It can help you learn to interpret them in a more realistic way and apply coping techniques. CBT can teach you coping skills, such as breathing exercises, to reduce anxiety, negative thoughts, and anger. It may also help you handle future trauma, reduce your urge to use alcohol or drugs to cope, and help you relate better with people. Multiple sessions of CBT may be most helpful in treating PTSD.

One form of CBT commonly used with trauma survivors is exposure therapy. This therapy relies on repeatedly discussing the trauma with a therapist in a safe, therapeutic setting. The goal is to decrease negative feelings from the trauma, help you develop relaxation skills during stressful times, and eventually decrease the influence of the memory. Some methods of exposure include:

  • Flooding—for example, your therapist asks you to focus on several bad memories at one time
  • Imaginal exposure—repeatedly reliving the traumatic events in your mind
  • In vivo exposure—planned events with objects or situations that cause bad memories and increase anxiety
  • Virtual reality exposure therapy—use of device to help stimulate memories

PET may be more effective than EMDR and relaxation therapy in reducing occurrences of re-experiencing symptoms and reducing avoidance.

Another type of CBT is called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). This therapy focuses on better understanding how the traumatic event affected your thought process. Our need to make sense of what happened can cause us to get stuck in thought patterns that prevent us from moving on. CPT works to identify these patterns and develop skills to question those thoughts when they arise. These skills can help manage feelings about the trauma and day to day challenges. CPT will also help you examine how the trauma may have changed your beliefs such as self esteem, personal safety, control, and relationships. Examining the differences in your beliefs before and after the trauma can help you establish a new middle ground. The therapy focuses on the changes to your thought pattern since the trauma and how this change affects how you act and feel.

CPT may be an effective counseling therapy for veterans with PTSD.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a new therapy for trauma survivors. It includes exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with eye movements. This results in a shifting of attention. It is believed that this technique may help you access and process traumatic material.

Group Therapy

Group therapy allows you to share your traumatic experience in a safe, strong, and supportive environment with other trauma survivors. A group setting can help you gain understanding and trust as you face your anger, grief, anxiety , and guilt about the trauma. Through group therapy, you can learn to cope with symptoms, memories, and other painful parts of your life.

Brief Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Brief psychodynamic psychotherapy helps you deal with emotional conflicts caused by the traumatic experience, especially as they relate to childhood events. This type of therapy will help you build a greater sense of self-esteem and develop better ways of thinking, coping, and dealing with intense emotions. Your therapist can also help you identify current situations that trigger traumatic memories and worsen PTSD symptoms.

Revision Information

  • Cloitre M, Stovall-McClough KC, et al. Treatment for PTSD related to childhood abuse: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Psychiatry . 2010 Aug;167(8):915-924.

  • Foa EB, Dancu CV, et al. A comparison of exposure therapy, stress inoculation training, and their combination for reducing post-traumatic stress disorder in female assault victims. J Consult Clin Psychol . 1999;67:194-200.

  • McLay RN, et al. Development and testing of virtual reality exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in active duty service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mil Med . 2012;177(6):635-642.

  • Treatment of PTSD. US Department of Veterans Affairs website. Available at: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/treatment-ptsd.asp. Accessed April 7, 2015.

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 5, 2012. Accessed November 25, 2012.

  • Roberts NP, Kitchiner NJ, Kenardy J, Bisson JI. Systematic review and meta-analysis of multiple-session early interventions following traumatic events. Am J Psychiatry . 2009 Mar;166(3):293-301.

  • Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry . 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.

  • Taylor S, Thordarson DS, et al. Comparative efficacy, speed, and adverse effects of three PTSD treatments: exposure therapy, EMDR, and relaxation training. J Consult Clin Psychol . 2003;71:330-338.

  • DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Schnurr PP, Friedman MJ, et al. Cognitive behavioral therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in women: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA . 2007;297:820-830.