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Treatment of PTSD

Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that thoughts and feelings are connected. Therefore, in cognitive therapy people are helped to identify and challenge chaotic thinking patterns to reduce distress. Exposure therapy is based on the idea that during the traumatic event people learn to be afraid of thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of the trauma. Exposure therapy involves careful, repeated, detailed imagining of the trauma hile in a safe, controlled context. This allows the patient to face and learn control of the fear and distress that was overbearing during the trauma.

In some cases, trauma memories can be delt with all at once. For other individuals or traumas, it is more common to work up to the most severe trauma gradually by using relaxation techniques and starting with more mild life stresses and confronting the trauma one piece at a time.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new treatment for trauma that involves elements of exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with techniques (eye movements, hand taps, and sounds) that cause an alternation of attention back and forth across the person's midline. Although research suggests that the eye movements are not necessary, EMDR is an effective treatment. Medication. Studies have also shown that medications help ease associated symptoms of depression and anxiety and help with sleep. At present, cognitive-behavioral therapy appears to be somewhat more effective than drug therapy. However, it would be premature to conclude that drug therapy is less effective overall since drug trials for PTSD are at a very early stage. Drug therapy appears to be highly effective for some individuals and is helpful for many more.

How long does treatment last? For some people, treatment for PTSD can last 3 to 6 months. Others, especially those with additional on-going psychiatric problems, may require ongoing treatment for continued symptoms of PTSD, including professional counseling, medicines, and stress management. In these cases, treatment for PTSD may last for 1 to 2 years or longer.