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Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Effective treatment for PTSD has been developed through research. In general, two effective types of treatment are available -- medication and specific types of psychotherapy (sometimes called "talk therapy"). Before treatment can begin, the mental health professional must conduct a careful diagnostic evaluation. Anxiety disorders are not all treated the same, and it is important to determine the specific problem before embarking on a course of treatment. Sometimes alcoholism or some other coexisting condition will have such an impact that it is necessary to treat it at the same time or before treating the anxiety disorder.

Medications

Psychiatrists or other physicians can prescribe medications for PTSD. These doctors often work closely with psychologists, social workers or counselors who provide psychotherapy. Although medications won't cure PTSD, they can keep the symptoms under control and enable you to lead a normal, fulfilling life. A number of medications that were originally approved for treatment of depression have been found to be effective for anxiety disorders. If your doctor prescribes an antidepressant, you will need to take it for several weeks before symptoms start to fade. So it is important not to get discouraged and stop taking these medications before they've had a chance to work.

Some of the newest antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These medications act in the brain on a chemical messenger called serotonin. SSRIs tend to have fewer side effects than older antidepressants. Fluoxetine, sertraline, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, and citalopram are among the SSRIs commonly prescribed for panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and social phobia.

Cognitive-Behavioral and Behavioral Therapy   

Research has shown that a form of psychotherapy that is effective for several anxiety disorders, particularly panic disorder and social phobia, is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It has two components. The cognitive component helps people change thinking patterns that keep them from overcoming their fears. For example, a person with panic disorder might be helped to see that his or her panic attacks are not really heart attacks as previously feared; the tendency to put the worst possible interpretation on physical symptoms can be overcome. Similarly, a person with social phobia might be helped to overcome the belief that others are continually watching and harshly judging him or her.

The behavioral component of CBT seeks to change people's reactions to anxiety-provoking situations. A key element of this component is exposure, in which people confront the things they fear. An example would be a treatment approach called exposure and response prevention. For a person with PTSD, exposure might consist of recalling the traumatic event in detail, as if in slow motion and, in effect, re-experiencing it in a safe situation. If this is done carefully, with support from the therapist, it may be possible to defuse the anxiety associated with the memories. Another behavioral technique is to teach the patient deep breathing as an aid to relaxation and anxiety management.

If you undergo CBT or behavioral therapy, exposure will be carried out only when you are ready; it will be done gradually and only with your permission. You will work with the therapist to determine how much you can handle and at what pace you can proceed.

Used with permission from the website of The National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) www.nimh.nih.gov

NIH Publication No. 02-3879
Printed 1994, 1995, 2000; Reprinted 2002.Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.

 

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This content was last modified on: 09/05/2008

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