New and Innovative Treatments for PTSD

Beyond Traditional Treatments

There are a number of effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy. However, researchers have recently begun to modify some of these existing treatments so that they can better target certain symptoms of PTSD or reach people who may not have immediate access to these treatments.

This article presents an overview of some new and innovative treatments for PTSD. Keep in mind that most of these treatments are in their early stages of development. That said, initial research on these treatments is promising and suggests that more and more people may be able to benefit from PTSD treatments.

Traditional Treatments for PTSD

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Although post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been around for a long time, PTSD as the diagnosis that we know it today is still relatively young, which means many of the treatments for PTSD are also quite young.

However, there are some very effective treatments for PTSD that are currently available, such as exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy. In addition, other treatments that are gaining in popularity, such as acceptance and commitment therapy, are beginning to show promise. This article presents an overview of some common treatments for PTSD that have been found to be useful in reducing symptoms.

Virtual Reality Exposure for PTSD

Exposure therapy is a common behavioral treatment for PTSD and one of the most effective treatments for the condition. Exposure therapy targets behaviors that people engage in, usually avoidance, in response to situations or thoughts and memories that are viewed as frightening or anxiety-provoking. By reducing avoidance behavior, people are able to come into contact with their emotions, facilitating the processing of these emotions.

Although exposure therapy has a number of advantages, it can sometimes be difficult to conduct, as a client cannot reasonably be exposed to all fear-inducing situations. Some situations may not be safe to come into contact with or some may be difficult to reproduce. Therefore, some mental health professionals have begun using virtual reality technology to address this limitation of traditional exposure therapy.

Telehealth Treatments for PTSD

There are a number of effective treatments for PTSD. However, these treatments are effective only to the extent that they reach the people who need them. Some people in need of PTSD treatment may not have immediate access to mental health providers who provide such treatments. These populations may include people in rural areas or those who live far from professionals who specialize in PTSD treatment.

Therefore, some mental health professionals have begun to look to telehealth as a way of delivering PTSD treatments to those in need.

Telehealth refers to the delivery of health services through telecommunication technology, such as the Internet, telephone or video conferencing. The last decade has seen tremendous advances in communication technology, as well as public access and ability to use this technology. As a result, health providers are increasingly recognizing ways to use this technology to reach patients who may need services but who don't have immediate access to them. 

Internet-Based Treatment for PTSD

Another telehealth treatment for PTSD is Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral PTSD treatment (iCBT). In iCBT, materials that are often provided in face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy like monitoring forms and exposure hierarchies, are delivered through protected websites. In addition, in iCBT, a client may have regular contact with a therapist through telephone, email or webcam. iCBT has been found to be comparable to face-to-face treatment for depression and anxiety, and studies are showing that it works well for PTSD too. 

Yoga for PTSD

People with PTSD often experience intense hyperarousal and fear of certain internal sensations, such as thoughts and emotions. As such, it has been suggested that yoga may help people cope with their PTSD symptoms. In a nutshell, yoga is about creating a balance or equilibrium in the body through the development of strength and flexibility. Breathing and mindful awareness of the body are also important components of yoga. Several studies have examined whether yoga might be beneficial for people with PTSD, and it looks like yoga may be useful in reducing some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and PTSD.

Imagery Rehearsal Treatment for PTSD

Nightmares are considered a re-experiencing symptom of PTSD, and they are actually one of the most commonly reported symptoms among people with PTSD. Nightmares can greatly interfere with your amount and quality of sleep and can cause high levels of anxiety. Nightmares are also often unaffected by standard treatments for PTSD. Because of this, specialized treatment for nightmares have been developed. One such treatment is Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT). This time-limited, specialized treatment that is similar to exposure therapy directly targets nightmares in PTSD. Early findings show that IRT reduces the severity of nightmares among people with PTSD.

Acupuncture for PTSD

Researchers are also now starting to explore alternative treatments for PTSD, such as acupuncture. The practice of acupuncture comes from traditional Chinese medicine, and it is based on the idea that we all have a vital energy that moves through twelve energy lines on the body. These energy lines are called "meridians." Each meridian corresponds to a different set of organs. Disease stems from an imbalance in the flow of this energy. To correct this imbalance, thin needles are inserted into certain points along these meridian lines.

One study on acupuncture for PTSD found that acupuncture was just as effective as group cognitive behavioral therapy and more effective than no treatment in reducing PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety and life impairment. Read more about how acupuncture can help anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and PTSD.

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Article Sources
  • David Ivarsson, Marie Blom, Hugo Hesser, Per Carlbring, Pia Enderby, Rebecca Nordberg, Gerhard Andersson, "Guided internet-delivered cognitive behavior therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder: A randomized controlled trial." Internet Interventions, Volume 1, Issue 1, March 2014, Pages 33-40.