Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a treatable condition. However, treatment may take time, with periods of symptom remission followed by periods where symptoms are exacerbated. The condition may develop within days, weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event was initially experienced.
A team of medical professionals and other specialists are involved in helping a PTSD patient recover and may typically include a mental health specialist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a community psychiatric nurse and a social worker.
An outline for the treatment of PTSD is given below:
Among people with mild symptoms that have been present for less than four weeks after experiencing a traumatic event, a watchful waiting approach may be adopted where the person is closely monitored to see if symptoms worsen. If watchful waiting is prescribed, a follow-up appointment after one month is usually scheduled.
Psychotherapy or talking therapy is one of the main approaches to treating PTSD. Psychotherapy may be carried out on a one to-one basis or as a group-based therapy and may last for 6 to 12 weeks or more.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of talking therapy that helps a patient change any negative impact that disrupted thought patterns or attitudes are having on their behaviour. This is achieved by individually breaking down problems that are arising on a day-to-day basis and analysing and changing any negative thoughts that may be triggering them. Patients usually attend 90 minute sessions of CBT once or twice weekly over the course of 8 to 12 weeks, although less may be needed if the therapy is started within one month of the patient experiencing the traumatic event.
Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing is a relatively new approach to treating PTSD that involves the patient moving their eyes from side-to-side while remembering the traumatic event. This technique helps the hippocampus in the brain to processes unpleasant memories and flashbacks so that their impact on the mind is decreased.
Medications used to treat PTSD include the antidepressant paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and mirtazapine, a noradrenergic and specific serotenergic antidepressant. These medications are generally used in severe cases that have not responded to psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy alone. Tranquillizers such as benzodiazepines and antipsychotic medications may also be prescribed for some individuals.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc