Do Treatments For PTSD Work?

By Toni Hoy|Updated August 2, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Lauren Guilbeault, LMHC

Content/Trigger Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics which could potentially be triggering.

PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a common affliction that affects many. If you have experienced trauma or have had prolonged exposure to trauma in any aspect of your life, it may be necessary to let a therapist work with you to improve symptoms and for the treatment of ptsd.

Can a therapist diagnose PTSD? Yes, and with the right therapy, PTSD treatment can be successful. There are a number of treatment options that may be helpful for PTSD. For instance, people often seek PTSD counseling as a treatment option, and they may also see benefit from the use of medications. People with ptsd can even utilize a PTSD service dog to help cope with symptoms. If you or a loved one ever finds themself in a crisis, a PTSD hotline is a great resource that is available as well. Keep reading for more information on posttraumatic stress disorder treatment types you may want to consider.

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Therapy Can Be Healing And Can Provide Relief From Past Trauma

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment

Unlike other types of mental health disorders, the signs, symptoms, and risk factors for PTSD are quite distinct. If an individual has been exposed to traumatic experiences, they may be at risk of developing PTSD. A professional clinician or therapist will be able to recognize the symptoms of PTSD and be able to make a definitive diagnosis and plan to help in treating ptsd symptoms. There are several types of useful therapies for PTSD that are evidence-based and have research support. In the majority of cases, people living with PTSD find relief from the disorder after getting the right PTSD treatment for the right length of time, especially if they are experiencing PTSD images.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Statistics

Sidran Institute is a traumatic stress education and advocacy group that provides many valuable and somewhat surprising PTSD statistics and its treatment:

  • About 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lifetimes.
  • About 5% of Americans have PTSD at any one time, which equates to about 13 million people.
  • One in 13 adults will develop PTSD within their lifetime.
  • One in 10 women will get PTSD at some time in their lifetime.
  • Women are twice as likely to get PTSD than men.

Improper diagnoses and undertreatment cause afflicted people to seek repeat care, which hurts treatments costs for PTSD. The Sidran Institute has also done studies on the treatment costs associated with PTSD. Here's what they found:

  • Societies pay approximately $42.3 billion in healthcare costs. That figure encompasses psychiatric and non-psychiatric medical treatment costs, as well as medical treatments, indirect workplace costs, death-related, and prescription drug costs.
  • About 50% of treatment costs for PTSD are related to repeated use of healthcare services due to undiagnosed PTSD.
  • Patients with PTSD have some of the highest rates of healthcare service usage.
  • The greatest cost to society pertains to medical costs, doctor visits, and hospital visits for anxiety disorders and PTSD which costs about $23 billion every year.

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that about half of all individuals that are receiving treatments for addiction or substance abuse problems also live with PTSD.

Risk Factors

The best way to determine if you have PTSD is to schedule an appointment with a doctor, psychologist, counselor, or therapist who can provide you with a proper diagnosis. While only a licensed clinician can diagnose you with PTSD, there are numerous risk factors that may lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. It you have experienced trauma, have a specific trauma memory that is frequent, or you have lived through more than one traumatic experience, you may have symptoms of PTSD that should be treated.

Survivors of Violent Acts

Anyone who has been a survivor of a violent act or who has witnessed a violent act are at risk of getting PTSD. People who have been repeatedly exposed to life-threatening situations and have trauma related memories are also at risk of acquiring PTSD. Survivors may have experienced traumatic events such as physical violence, rape, sexual assault or abuse, domestic violence, mugging, school shootings, and physical or verbal abuse.

If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or Text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Survivors of Catastrophic Events

Major catastrophic events can occur unexpectedly in our everyday lives. Car accidents and car fires, plane crashes and terrorist strikes, and industrial accidents place all survivors at risk of PTSD. Also, natural disasters such as tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, and flooding cause commotion and loss of life or property which can lead to PTSD. If you have experienced any of these occurrences and have been affected by it, you may benefit from ptsd trauma focused therapy and medications.

PTSD Treatments

Combat Veterans and Civilian Survivors of War

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tells us that between 10%-31% of veterans returned from war with PTSD, depending on which war they served in. A new study that was published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal tells us that soldiers who enlist in the armed forces before the age of 25 are seven times more likely to get PTSD. If you want to find out more information about this issue, you may want to refer to the National Center for PTSD website.

First Responders

The first responder, such as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, 911 dispatchers, and EMTs are all at risk of getting job-related PTSD. For firefighters, there is a 20% rate of getting PTSD according to an International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) study.

Death and Illness

PTSD also affects many people who have been given a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness and those who are undergoing invasive or lengthy medical treatments or procedures. The unexpected sudden death of a close friend or relative is also the type of trauma that can cause someone to be affected by PTSD.

Symptoms Of PTSD

PTSD is common enough that most people have a general idea of what it is, especially as it pertains to our nation's veterans. Having just a little bit of knowledge can make it even more confusing to understand if how you're feeling is in any way related to PTSD. While only a properly licensed clinician can give someone a correct diagnosis of PTSD, the following information will help you to understand how clinicians arrive at a diagnosis of PTSD.

Clinicians begin with three categories, or "clusters" of PTSD symptoms. The clusters include:

  1. Reliving the event. Symptoms include recurring nightmares or intrusive images that occur at any time of night or day. Extreme emotional or physical reactions can accompany these symptoms including getting the chills, getting heart palpitations, or feeling a sense of uncontrollable panic. One or more of these symptoms must be present.
  1. Avoiding reminders of the event. This symptom includes avoiding people, places, thoughts, and activities that remind you of the trauma. Avoiding thoughts and feelings can cause you to feel emotionally detached, lose interest in things you previously enjoyed, and lose interest in daily activities. Three or more of these symptoms must be present.
  1. They are hyper-aroused or on-guard. Symptoms in this cluster include feeling hyper-aroused, hypervigilant, constantly on-guard with feelings of anger and irritation, having trouble sleeping, having trouble concentrating, and being overly alert or easily startled. Two or more of these symptoms must be present.

Treatments & Diagnosis

When listing the number of symptoms in each cluster, a diagnosis of PTSD is indicated when the correct number of symptoms in each category have lasted for one month or longer, and the symptoms cause severe obstructions at home, at work, or in the throes of daily life.

Other symptoms that may not be clear until a clinician has made a diagnosis of PTSD are low-self-esteem, feeling disconnected from their lives, or having relationship problems. These issues by themselves may also be indicative of some other mental health disorder. When combined with the clustered symptoms, they become added symptoms of PTSD.

Mental health is a complicated field because many symptoms overlap. Other psychological symptoms that may be related to PTSD are depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.

It's also common for physical disorders to accompany a diagnosis of PTSD. Individuals living with PTSD may complain of chronic pain, fatigue, stomach aches, respiratory ailments, headaches, muscle pain, low backaches, or heart problems. These symptoms could call for additional medications to be needed during your treatment. 

Lacking proper treatments for PTSD or other options to alleviate their pain and discomfort, help them manage stress, or reduce anxiety, people living with undiagnosed PTSD may engage in self-destructive behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse or experience suicidal tendencies in attempts at self-treatments and self-soothing.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available to assist 24/7.

Of the nearly 70% of adults who have experienced a traumatic event during their lifetime, only 20% develop PTSD. Among those who do go on to develop PTSD, the symptoms usually surface within the first few weeks after the trauma. In rarer cases, some individuals will experience symptoms months or years later, which can be part of delayed onset PTSD.

Therapy Can Be Healing And Can Provide Relief From Past Trauma

Addiction & Treatment

People who live with PTSD often turn to drugs or alcohol as a means for dealing with their symptoms. When this happens, the body works against itself as the brain views a substance as treatments.

Treatments

Stress increases the levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA which creates sort of a natural tranquilizer within the brain. Drugs and alcohol can also stimulate GABA, which puts people in a happier state of mind. However, there's a downside. After prolonged drug or alcohol use, the neurotransmitters are not as easily affected, and the brain asks for more, which creates the cycle of addiction. As the effects of drugs or alcohol diminish, the effects of PTSD worsen. Most clinicians favor treatments for addiction and PTSD simultaneously. This can be completed using individual therapy or a group format.

Therapy For PTSD

Most PTSD treatments are evidence-based, have research support, and work well for managing PTSD symptoms. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and eye-movement desensitizing response (EMDR), are the most common treatments options for PTSD, and a few others work well too, such as medications.

Treatments

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective combination of talk therapy and behavioral therapy where a clinician guides patients on how to reframe negative thinking patterns into positive thoughts. Another type of therapy that is related to this is cognitive processing therapy, which is a trauma focused treatment, that is designed to aid you in changing the way you think about the trauma you have experienced.

Present centered therapy is another type of cognitive behavioral therapy that may be helpful in the treatment of PTSD. It attempts to help people address situations in their daily life.

Eye-movement desensitizing response (EMDR) which is also known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is a type of trauma therapy where repetitive back and forth movements of the eye that mirror REM sleep work in tandem with a clinician, who guides the patient to transform harmful thoughts into thoughts that make them feel in control and powerful. This eye movement desensitization is also a trauma focused therapy, where a patient is asked to focus on the memory, instead of avoiding it.

Seeking Safety is a therapy that helps patients feel safe in their thinking, behavior, relationships, and emotions.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) is a therapy that helps the brains of individuals living with PTSD to disassociate the connection between trauma triggers (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings) and the traumatic event. This prolonged exposure therapy may be a way for a patient to gain control over their trauma and symptoms.

Stress Inoculation Training is a type of therapy where the therapist uses exercises to help patients learn to recognize their triggers and then employ coping skills to manage the feelings that surface. Stress inoculation training treatment focuses on helping an individual grow their skills, so they are able to handle stress and other feelings in their lives.

Medications may also be prescribed for ptsd treatment, based on the symptoms and severity of symptoms that an individual experiences. There are a number of medications that may be applicable for a specific patient. In many cases, antidepressants are the type of medications that are prescribed, but other medications may also be prescribed for other symptoms that are present related to ptsd. 

Conclusion

Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to find therapy and other treatments for PTSD is to contact BetterHelp and ask for a clinician that specializes in PTSD. If you're under the care of a doctor, you can ask for a referral to a psychologist. Veterans will find therapists and many other helpful support and services through their local Veteran's Administration. Your local mental health agency is another good way to find qualified therapists in your area.

If you want to know for sure if you have PTSD, it's best to reach out for treatment of ptsd or help right away. There's nothing to lose, and you have much to gain for anyone struggling. There are many treatments for PTSD that are available and may help you including cognitive therapy, cognitive processing therapy, and medications. Treatment for PTSD works, and there's no reason to put off feeling better and gaining better control over your life.

 

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