Overview of Treatments for PTSD

Numerous treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are available to help people successfully cope with the negative and widespread effects of this diagnosis. Treatments range from individual or group therapy (often referred to as "talk therapy") to medication. They may also differ in the number of treatment sessions required. Regardless, there are many ways of effectively targeting the symptoms of PTSD.

Cognitive Behavioral Treatments for PTSD

A patient and his therapist.
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Cognitive-behavioral treatments describe any kind of treatment that is based on the idea that psychological problems arise as a result of the way in which people interpret or evaluate situations, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the behaviors that stem from these evaluations. Several different therapies would be considered "cognitive-behavioral" that are regularly used to treat PTSD including exposure therapy, stress inoculation training, and cognitive processing therapy.

Exposure Therapy for PTSD

Exposure therapy is considered a behavioral treatment for PTSD. This is because exposure therapy targets learned behaviors that people engage in (most often the avoidance of situations) in response to situations or thoughts and memories that are viewed as frightening or anxiety-provoking. Exposure therapy has been found to be very effective in addressing the symptoms of PTSD, as well as in the treatment of other anxiety disorders.

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is being examined as another way to help people recover from anxiety disorders. There is some evidence which shows that VRET may be useful for treating several different anxiety disorders and anxiety-related problems, including claustrophobia, fear of driving, acrophobia (or a fear of heights), fear of flying, arachnophobia (or a fear of spiders) and social anxiety. In addition, a couple of studies have been done that test how useful VRET may be for PTSD.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for PTSD

It is important to understand the difference between the cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic treatment of PTSD. Psychodynamic approaches to PTSD focus on various factors that may influence or cause PTSD symptoms, such as early childhood experiences (particularly our level of attachment to our parents), current relationships and the things people do (often without being aware of it) to protect themselves from upsetting thoughts and feelings that are the result of experiencing a traumatic event (these "things" are called "defense mechanisms").

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (or ACT) is a behavioral treatment that is based ​on the idea that suffering comes not from the experience of emotional pain, but from our attempted avoidance of that pain. It is used as a treatment for PTSD and other mental health disorders. Its overarching goal is to help people be open to and willing to have their inner experiences while focusing attention not on trying to escape or avoid pain (because this is impossible to do) but instead, on living a meaningful life.

Medications for PTSD

A number of medications for PTSD exist. Medications are increasingly being used to treat anxiety disorders and they have generally been found to be successful in helping people with their symptoms. No medications have been specifically designed to treat the symptoms of PTSD, although some medications commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and depression have been found to be effective in helping people manage their symptoms.

Treatments for the Co-Occurrence of PTSD and Substance Use

There is a definite need for treatments for substance abuse and PTSD. This is because it is common for individuals with PTSD to also develop problems with alcohol and drug use. In fact, these problems occur together quite frequently. Alcohol and drug use can interfere with standard treatments for PTSD. Therefore, people have developed specialized cognitive-behavioral treatments for substance abuse and PTSD.

Behavioral Activation for PTSD

In behavioral activation, the main goals are to increase activity levels (and prevent avoidance behaviors) and help the patient take part in positive and rewarding activities which can improve mood. Behavioral activation was originally developed for the treatment of depression. However, there is some evidence that behavioral activation may also be helpful for people with PTSD.

The Effect of Borderline Personality Disorder on the Treatment of PTSD

PTSD and borderline personality disorder (BPD) often go hand in hand and there is some thought that having BPD may negatively affect the treatment of PTSD.

The Treatment of PTSD and Schizophrenia

PTSD and schizophrenia have been found to occur together. Some people question how successfully PTSD can be treated when symptoms of schizophrenia are also present.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is often considered to be a treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, although DBT is most often used to treat BPD, it may also be useful for someone with PTSD.

PTSD and Hypnosis

Many treatments have been determined effective in treating PTSD. However, what about hypnosis in treating PTSD? Is hypnosis an effective treatment for people struggling with PTSD?

Was this page helpful?