There are many therapies available, individualised to the sufferers needs. The two main treatments are counselling or ‘talk therapy’ and medication (anti-anxiety and anti-depressants).
Psychological treatment (talk therapy) should be the first line treatment. Medication is not recommended in the first four weeks of symptoms, unless the person’s symptoms and distress are unable to be managed with psychological treatment alone.
It can take time to find the right therapist, someone who you can connect with, confide in and trust. Talking about the traumatic event is an essential part of treatment, but it may take more than one attempt to find the right psychologist.
Medication is similar. Every person is different in which medication they may respond to, and there is no way to predict. It is purely a matter of trial and error and it can take time for medications to work. Some medications can even make you feel worse, suicidal ideation has been reported as a side effect of some anti-depressant medications, especially when combined with alcohol. Therefore it is important to be aware, and if possible let someone close know that you have started a new medication and to watch for negative side effects.
Having a good doctor who will listen to you and work with you when prescribing anti-depressant and/or anti-anxiety medication is key. It is certainly not a quick fix, and will not resolve PTSD symptoms on its own. Medication may help reduce feelings of anxiety and fear enough to support the talk therapy.
The most effective talk therapy is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, where the sufferer is taught how to understand how the trauma changed their feelings and thoughts. Understanding those feelings can help the sufferer reframe those feelings and find positive ways to deal with distressing emotions. Over time the symptoms should reduce in frequency and severity as the person learns ways to manage the feelings of fear and panic, and/or depression and worthlessness.
Another common therapy is Prolonged Exposure therapy, where the sufferer is encouraged to talk openly about the incident over and over again, until it no longer causes intense emotions. This can help the sufferer understand the upsetting feelings and become ‘desensitized’ in a way, to the event and the emotions they felt around the trauma. Exposure therapy may includes the person starting to go back to places they have been avoiding, and seeing people they have cut of contact with. It’s a slow process, but over time, they can get return to social functions and re-establish friendships lessening the isolation that is so common with PTSD.
The most common medications used to treat PTSD are anti-depressants including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications may reduce feelings of depression, anxiety or rage, and help manage strong emotions. They will not ‘cure’ PTSD and are only one part of a treatment plan.
Benzodiazapines, such as Valium, can be effective as short term treatment to help calm fear, anxiety or feelings of rage, but many doctors will not prescribe these medications due to the risk of addiction. Occasionally anti-psychotics are prescribed, if other medications are not effective and talk therapy isn’t enough.
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