Wednesday, April 8, 2009

PTSD Healing: How to Treat the Symptoms of PTSD

So you’ve got your PTSD diagnosis – now what? Learning about what ails you cannot be complete if you don’t research your treatment options. PTSD is not like having a burst appendix, in which case the universal answer is, Take it out! No, PTSD is a little more interesting and colorful. It’s more wily and precocious and so we will have to become wily and precocious in our efforts to recover from it.

Since we aren’t suffering from something that a little penicillin will fix, before we begin healing we need to study up on the options. Today’s PTSD U module is all about ‘Treatment: What Therapies are Available for Coping, Managing and Healing the Symptoms of PTSD?’

I have to admit, I was a sort of pinball in recovery – I bounced from one type of treatment to another until I found one that worked. With the exception of medication and exposure therapy, neither of which I tried, I subjected myself to every other possible treatment I could find. Some helped a little, some didn’t help at all, and one eliminated my nightmares forever. It’s up to you to continue researching what treatments are available to you and finding ways to try them until you find relief.

The nature of PTSD recovery is, as my mother says, 'a long and winding road'. There is no quick fix. With all of the methods we can and do try, it’s tempting to get bogged down in our recovery failures. But that would be looking at the healing journey in all the wrong ways. Each time we use a method - each time we attempt to heal - is a success; it is us not sitting around waiting to be released but attempting our own escape. Considering the brain fog, the abyss, the darkness in which we feel we live with PTSD, each act toward healing should be considered a success just for the act itself.

Then, we assess the benefits of the act. And if we’re not satisfied, we consider a new plan of attack and begin again. To get you started, or to jump-start your recovery, here’s a brief overview of popular PTSD treatments:

Talk therapy – Psychotherapy that emphasizes the client and practitioner speaking on the conscious level about the trauma and its resulting problems, issues and solutions. Psychotherapy may utilize insight, persuasion, suggestion, reassurance, and instruction so that patients may see themselves and their problems more realistically and have the desire to cope effectively with them.

Behavior therapy –A form of psychological treatment based on the premise that emotional problems are learned responses to the environment, and that these maladaptive behaviors can be unlearned. From the perspective of behavioral therapists, the reasons behind behaviors are not as important as the fact that the behaviors can be changed.

Cognitive therapy – Short-term psychotherapy based on the concept that how we think about things affects how we feel emotionally. If we change how we think, then we change how we feel; ultimately, this changes our behavior.

Exposure Therapy – An approach based on the principle that we get used to things that are just annoying and not truly dangerous. This is called ‘habituation’, and it occurs naturally in over 95% of people. Exposure therapy asks patients to confront – in a safe way – the very situations, objects, people and memories they have attached to the trauma (and are probably very consciously avoiding). It is the opposite of the typical, self-prescribed avoidance approach. While avoidance may provide temporary relief, it just doesn't last. Facing these triggers is the key to reducing the frequency and severity of PTSD symptoms.

Information processing – Changing our perceptions of events on the subconscious level changes our thoughts, which in turn changes our emotions and thus our behavior. These modalities include such trauma specific therapies as Thought Field Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, Tapas Accupressure Technique, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. In this type of therapy the present is stressed and the past not deeply discussed.

Hypnotherapy – This type of therapy also focuses on changing perceptions of events on the subconscious level, through the power of suggestion. Therapies include hypnosis, Neurolinguistic Programming, and Time Line Therapy. In these forms of treatment the PTSD experiencer focuses on imagining a new future rather than rehashing the past.

Medication – The use of pharmacological agents in treating PTSD largely focuses on controlling PTSD symptoms so that the sufferer can better use and focus his/her energy toward healing. Such agents include antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, and mood stabilizers.

Self-empowered recovery – A process of recovery motivated and directed by the PTSD experiencer. One in which he or she takes responsibility for healing, participates in the process, and consciously engages in choosing actions designed to progress healing.

This is a comprehensive (although by no means all-inclusive) list. Have you heard of or tried a treatment that’s not listed here? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. The more we add all of our knowledge the more people will heal sooner.

(Photo: Waterfall Spa)


Amy Kiel said...

Great and informative blog post about PTSD and the treatments available. I would like to suggest that I have been led to believe that some of these treatments are more successful than others due to the unique nature of PTSD and that perhaps a "typical" approach to therapy such as talk therapy and exposure therapy that moves to quickly can be harmful. I am not the source of knowledge here, just repeating what I have heard. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong!
I will be soon using a type of EMDR treatment along with exposure therapy at a very conservative pace. I am hopeful about this approach.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Amy - Thanks for adding to the mix! You bring up a good topic: all therapies should be taken at a pace that is comfortable to the survivor.

Healing only occurs when we engage, which means we feel safe and ready. If the right conditions are not met we will (consciously and/or subconsciously) resist treatment and then healing cannot occur. We'll feel that we failed, rather than understand the proper environment had not been created.

Also, with all of the therapies listed in this post I wasn't suggesting they all be tried at once. I tried one, and then added another, and then subtracted another, etc. It's a matter of trial and error until healing is achieved. There is no prescribed path; we can only experiment.

While I really would like to (because I so believe in what worked for me!), I don't think we can say one treatment is more successful than another. Each survivor has a unique trauma experience and so his/her recovery will also be unique. For example, EMDR is great for some people, and yet I often hear that it triggers others. For me, it did absolutely nothing -- and for you it may unlock the key to freedom!

I think the most important thing to know/remember is that we have treatment choices. We do not have to feel imprisoned; there are many paths to healing. We just have to find the one that is right for us - and if we're on the wrong one make a change. It is our dedication to the process that determines the stregnth with which the healing journey is approached.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Amy -- P.S. Good luck! Let me know how the combo goes. :)

Acorn said...

I've been doing EMDR for almost two years off and on. It has helped me to recover. It can be triggered, but if your therapist is good, he/she will make sure you are in a safe place before you leave the office.
It does have a side effect though. I feel like I have been hit by a truck for a couple of day after the session due to processing all the information.
For me, it is well worth it.

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Acorn -- Thanks for the comment! It always helps to hear from someone else's perspective. We can all learn from each other, so please always speak up when you have something to share.

Glad to hear EMDR is working for you, which means you're healing. Bravo!