PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.
It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.
If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.
If thoughts and feelings from a life-threatening event are upsetting you or causing problems in your life, you may have PTSD.
Here’s the good news: you can get treatment for PTSD—and it works. For some people, treatment can get rid of PTSD altogether. For others, it can make symptoms less intense. Treatment also gives you the tools to manage symptoms so they don’t keep you from living your life. PTSD treatment can turn your life around—even if you’ve been struggling for years.
PTSD therapy has three main goals:
- Improve your symptoms
- Teach you skills to deal with it
- Restore your self-esteem
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Teaches you to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma. It involves talking with your provider about your negative thoughts and doing short writing assignments.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
Teaches you how to gain control by facing your negative feelings. It involves talking about your trauma with a provider and doing some of the things you have avoided since the trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Helps you process and make sense of your trauma. It involves calling the trauma to mind while paying attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound (like a finger waving side to side, a light, or a tone).
Stress Inoculation Training
Talk therapy that can help you recognize and change incorrect and/or negative thoughts that have been influencing your behavior. Coping skills are also used such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation training and role playing.
Alternative Treatments for Veterans With PTSD
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health programs offer alternative techniques with conventional therapies while many non-profit organizations throughout the country have seen improvement in vets through alternative measures.
These six alternative treatments are showing increased popularity for veterans with PTSD:
- Acupuncture—A 2014 study of 55 service members concluded that acupuncture “was effective for reducing PTSD symptoms.” Patients using acupuncture with traditional treatment “showed significantly greater improvements” over patients who had usual care only, the Healthcare Medicine Institute reported. Acupuncture appears to be a safe treatment to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, the researchers noted.
- Yoga and meditation—These practices have been used in the military and at VA medical centers, according to Social Work Today. Yoga helps to relieve pain and bring comfort throughout the body. Yoga and meditation need to fit the needs of patients who have experienced trauma, including the creation of a safe space to provide relaxation for an overactive nervous system.
- Service dogs—Bonding with animals provides benefits for veterans with PTSD. A program under Warrior Canine Connection has vets with the disorder training service dogs for fellow vets afflicted with physical injuries. It provides veterans with companionship but also results in stress reduction, reduced blood pressure, and improved relationships.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)—A self-healing method, it combines cognitive therapy and exposure therapy, which exposes patients to anxiety sources without causing any danger, with acupressure on points throughout the body. One controlled trial found more than 85 percent of veterans with PTSD had no obvious symptoms after six sessions of EFT, according to the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies.
- Swimming with sea creatures—Dolphin swims are enjoyable for the population at large, but they are also used as alternative treatments for vets with PTSD. At the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, veterans swim with whale sharks and are accompanied by dive masters in a huge tank, The New York Times The sharks get their name from their immense size and mainly eat plankton. The quiet underwater environment helps vets forget bad memories.
- Outdoor therapies—Horseback riding, hiking, and rafting are among activities that can help vets overcome symptoms of PTSD. The Rites of Passage Ranch Long Term Care Program in Washington state combines cognitive behavioral therapy with relaxation exercises, physical activity, and healthy food.
You’re not alone
Going through a traumatic event is not rare. At least half of Americans have had a traumatic event in their lives. Of people who have had trauma, about 1 in 10 men and 2 in 10 women will develop PTSD. There are some things that make it more likely you’ll develop PTSD — for example, having very intense or long-lasting trauma, getting hurt, or having a strong reaction to the event (like shaking, throwing up, or feeling distant from your surroundings). It’s also more common to develop PTSD after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault. But there’s no way to know for sure who will develop PTSD.
Where can I go to get help?
If you’re a Veteran, check with the VA about whether you can get treatment there. Visit va.gov/directory/guide/PTSD.asp to find a VA PTSD program near you. If you’re looking for care outside the VA, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health care provider who specializes in PTSD treatment, or visit findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ to search for providers in your area.
Get Help If You’re in Crisis
If you feel like you might hurt yourself or someone else:
• Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) anytime to talk to a crisis counselor. Press “1” if you are a Veteran. The call is confidential (private) and free.
• Chat online with a crisis counselor anytime at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
You can also call 911 or go to your local emergency room.
For more information and resources visit the National Center for PTSD website at: ptsd.va.gov
Find out about PTSD and PTSD treatment from Veterans who’ve been there at: ptsd.va.gov/aboutface