The main treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are psychotherapy and medication.
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD.
It’s possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it’s 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.
Your GP will often carry out an initial assessment, but you’ll be referred to a mental health specialist for further assessment and treatment if you’ve had symptoms of PTSD for more than four weeks or your symptoms are severe.
There are a number of mental health specialists you may see if you have PTSD, such as a psychologist, a community psychiatric nurse or a psychiatrist
If you have mild symptoms of PTSD, or you’ve 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’s sometimes recommended because 2 in every 3 people who develop problems after a traumatic experience get better within a few weeks without treatment.
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.
Psychotherapy is a type of therapy often used to treat emotional problems and mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and OCD
The treatment is carried out by trained mental health professionals who listen to you and help you come up with effective strategies to resolve your problems.
Cognitive behavioral 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 helps you cope with any distress you feel, while identifying any unhelpful thoughts or misrepresentations you have about the experience.
Your therapist can help you gain control of your fear and distress by changing the negative way you think about your experience. For example, feeling you’re to blame for what happened or fear that it may happen again.
You may also be encouraged to gradually restart any activities you’ve avoided since your experience, such as driving a car if you had an accident.
You’ll usually have 8-12 weekly sessions of trauma-focused CBT, although fewer may be needed. Sessions usually last for around 60-90 minutes.