Treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)How we can help
The main treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are psychotherapy and medication.
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help.
Before having treatment for PTSD, a detailed assessment of your symptoms will be carried out to ensure treatment is tailored to your individual needs.
If you have mild symptoms of PTSD, or you have had symptoms for less than four weeks, an approach called watchful waiting may be recommended.
Watchful waiting involves carefully monitoring your symptoms to see whether they improve or get worse. It is sometimes recommended because 2 in every 3 people who develop problems after a traumatic experience will get better without treatment within a few weeks.
If watchful waiting is recommended, you should have a follow-up appointment within one month.
If you have PTSD that requires treatment, psychotherapy is usually recommended first. A combination of psychotherapy and medication may be recommended If you have severe or persistent PTSD.
The treatment is carried out by trained mental health professionals who will listen to you and help you come up with effective strategies to resolve your problems.
The two main types of psychotherapy used to treat people with PTSD are described below:
What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR is an acronym for ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing’. EMDR is a powerful psychological treatment method that was developed by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro, in the 1980s. As a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute, she published the first research data to support the benefits of the therapy in 1989.
Since then a wealth of research has been conducted demonstrating its benefits in treating psychological trauma arising from experiences as diverse as war related experiences, childhood sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect, natural disaster, assault, surgical trauma, road traffic accidents and workplace accidents. Since its original development, EMDR is also increasingly used to help individuals with other issues and performance anxiety. EMDR has been found to be of benefit to children as well as adults.
EMDR is a complex and powerful therapy. Therapists always have a background in mental health before undertaking training in EMDR. You are strongly recommended to only consult legitimate clinicians who have undergone a bona-fide EMDR training. The EMDR Europe and EMDR UK and Ireland accredited training organisations can be found under ‘Trainers’ on this website.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that aims to help you manage your problems by changing how you think and act.
Trauma-focused CBT uses a range of psychological treatment techniques to help you come to terms with the traumatic event.
For example, your therapist may ask you to confront your traumatic memories by thinking about your experience in detail. During this process your therapist will help you cope with any distress you feel, while identifying any unhelpful thoughts or misrepresentations you have about the experience.
By doing this, your therapist can help you gain control of your fear and distress by changing the negative way you think about your experience, such as feeling that you are to blame for what happened or fear that it may happen again.
You may also be encouraged to gradually restart any activities you have avoided since your experience, such as driving a car if you had an accident.
You will usually have 8-12 weekly sessions of trauma-focused CBT, although fewer may be needed if the treatment starts within one month of the traumatic event. Sessions where the trauma is discussed will last for around 90 minutes.
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