While there is currently no one cure for PTSD, many treatments are effective in addressing symptoms. Learn more about treatments available for PTSD.
Many people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are unsure if there is a cure for PTSD. While there is no definitive cure for PTSD, there are many treatment options for PTSD that can help reduce symptoms and distress related to the condition and allow a person to return to their regular activities. Based on current knowledge and treatment options, most PTSD symptoms can be alleviated with treatment. In addition to current treatment options, there is ongoing research looking for new ways to treat symptoms and establish an effective PTSD cure.
PTSD Treatment Options
There is a range of PTSD treatment options available, and selecting the best treatment strategy can depend on the severity and type of trauma experienced. Effective treatment usually begins with assessment and diagnosis of PTSD by a qualified professional, based on the outlined criteria in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).
Key symptoms of PTSD can include intense fear, anger or panic in reaction to a trigger. Typically, treatment aims to reduce the fear associated with triggers. This fear reduction can be accomplished either by addressing problematic thoughts or problematic behaviors.
PTSD treatment can be a lengthy and challenging process. The type of treatment strategy that works best can depend on the type of trauma, the presence of other psychiatric conditions and the severity of PTSD symptoms. Treatments should be both discussed and administered by a trained professional.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD involves developing new thought patterns and strategies surrounding a traumatic experience. More specifically, CBT includes recalling or thinking about a traumatic event and remembering the details and feelings of the experience. Then, individuals are taught new thought and behavioral techniques to manage anxiety surrounding the trauma. Cognitive restructuring can include changing thought patterns to highlight that there is no current or ongoing threat and that a trigger or experience does not need to cause ongoing panic or distress.
- EMDR. Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for PTSD is effective in military and non-military groups. The treatment includes remembering a traumatic experience and holding the thought of that experience. At the same time, a person will focus on an external object — usually, a finger or hand moving from side to side — which they will track with their eyes. It’s understood that recalling traumatic memories during EMDR treatment for PTSD allows the thoughts to be “re-remembered” with different and less distressing information.
- Exposure Therapy. Exposure therapy for PTSD is a common treatment strategy for improving reactions and symptoms related to trauma. A popular type of exposure therapy is prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD. This treatment includes remembering, describing and discussing the traumatic experience out loud and being exposed to situations that would typically be linked to the trauma. Through this process, trauma can be reprocessed, gradually removing distressing associations from the memory. In some modern exposure therapies, virtual reality is used to expose patients to situations or objects.
- MDMA. MDMA is most commonly known as a recreational drug. However, it has been trialed as a treatment for PTSD. MDMA may have benefits for PTSD as it allows people with the condition to more easily recall memories of their trauma without feeling overwhelmed or panicked by them. Like other therapies, MDMA therapy for PTSD can help to recall and reprocess traumatic memories, removing some of the panic and fear associated with them.
Recovery from PTSD
PTSD recovery can look different for everyone. Depending on the type and severity of the trauma, PTSD may follow a rapid, slow or non-remitting recovery trajectory. Recovery from PTSD can be a challenging process, but seeking professional diagnosis and treatment can help reduce levels of distress and encourage a return to normal functioning.
PTSD statistics show that 50% of cases recover within two years, and over three-quarters recover within ten years. These statistics can also be impacted by the type of trauma experienced. PTSD prognosis is also influenced by other factors such as social support, community engagement and resilience building.
Recovery may also mean different things to different people. For some, recovery may include being free from reliving or experiencing memories of a traumatic experience. For others, recovery means that they feel equipped with skills and strategies to manage any memories they may experience.
PTSD Treatment Advances: How Close Are We to a Cure?
Treatment for PTSD has come a long way, and increased understanding of the cognitive, biological and psychological aspects of trauma has informed new ways to treat PTSD. PTSD treatment research is ongoing, and scientists are looking for new ways to improve PTSD symptoms and shorten recovery times.
PTSD studies examining the effects of MDMA and cannabis in treating the condition are ongoing, with some evidence that they might be effective in some patients. Other PTSD research involves investigating how genetics might be able to help predict what types of medication someone with PTSD might respond to, or how targeting specific regions of the brain linked to the fear response can improve treatment.
There are many challenges in treating PTSD, including many people not seeking treatment. Mental health is complex, and unlike physical illness, there is often not one clear cause. Because of this, it can be difficult to establish a single cure for PTSD. Despite this, current treatments and ongoing research hold promise that PTSD can be treated in a timely and effective manner.
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