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In addition to medicines, other treatments are available to help you manage PTSD. These include the following:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a new therapy for trauma survivors. It includes exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with eye movements. This results in a shifting of attention. It is believed that this technique may help you access and process traumatic material.

Group Therapy

Group therapy allows you to share your traumatic experience in a safe, strong, and supportive environment with other trauma survivors. A group setting can help you gain understanding and trust as you face your anger, grief, anxiety, and guilt about the trauma. Through group therapy, you can learn to cope with symptoms, memories, and other painful parts of your life.

Brief Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Brief psychodynamic psychotherapy helps you deal with emotional conflicts caused by the traumatic experience, especially as they relate to childhood events. This type of therapy will help you build a greater sense of self-esteem and develop better ways of thinking, coping, and dealing with intense emotions. Your therapist can also help you identify current situations that trigger traumatic memories and worsen PTSD symptoms.

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT can help you examine your feelings and thought patterns. It can help you learn to interpret them in a more realistic way and apply coping techniques. CBT can teach you coping skills, such as breathing exercises, to reduce anxiety, negative thoughts, and anger. It may also help you handle future trauma, reduce your urge to use alcohol or drugs to cope, and help you relate better with people. Multiple sessions of CBT may be most helpful in treating PTSD.

One form of CBT commonly used with trauma survivors is exposure therapy.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET)

PET emphasizes reducing avoidance of traumatic memories. Many techniques are used to help you re-experience the trauma in a safe, controlled, therapeutic setting. The process can help you face and gain control over the fear and distress that happens with trauma. These include the following:

  • Flooding—for example, your therapist asks you to focus on several bad memories at one time
  • Imaginal exposure—repeatedly reliving the traumatic events in your mind
  • In vivo exposure—planned events with objects or situations that cause bad memories and increase anxiety

These therapies can be done gradually using relaxation techniques and desensitization.

Studies have found that PET was more effective than EMDR and relaxation therapy in reducing occurrences of re-experiencing symptoms. It was the most efficient and effective in reducing avoidance. It also resulted in the most patients no longer meeting the criteria for PTSD after treatment. In one study, PET, support counseling, and interpersonal skill training were each found to decrease PTSD symptoms in women with a history of child abuse.

Other treatment methods are being evaluated such as virtual reality exposure therapy.

Revision Information

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  • McLay RN, et al. Development and testing of virtual reality exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in active duty service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mil Med. 2012;177(6):635-642.

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 5, 2012. Accessed November 25, 2012.

  • Roberts NP, Kitchiner NJ, Kenardy J, Bisson JI. Systematic review and meta-analysis of multiple-session early interventions following traumatic events. Am J Psychiatry. 2009 Mar;166(3):293-301.

  • Stern, TA et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.

  • Taylor S, Thordarson DS, et al. Comparative efficacy, speed, and adverse effects of three PTSD treatments: exposure therapy, EMDR, and relaxation training. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2003;71:330-338.

  • DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance: Schnurr PP, Friedman MJ, et al. Cognitive behavioral therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in women: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2007;297:820-830.