Humans are ingenious. We’ve cured the likes of polio, measles, rubella, and smallpox with vaccines after years of research. So why can’t we cure posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? The answer is complicated because, as with all mental health disorders, PTSD has mysterious causes and so far, only some of its symptoms can be managed. The goal of treating PTSD is to allow – through therapy, education, medicine – affected individuals to return to some level of normalcy.
WHAT IS PTSD?
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “PTSD 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. If symptoms last more than a few months, it may be PTSD. The good news is that there are effective treatments.”
FACTS ABOUT PTSD
- About 15 percent of girls and six percent of boys under age 18 develop PTSD.
- More than 8 million Americans over age 18 have PTSD.
- 6% of adults in America experienced PTSD in the past year, per the National Institute of Mental Health.
- 67 percent of people subjected to mass violence develop PTSD, more than people exposed to natural catastrophes or other kinds of trauma.
- People who have suffered previous harrowing experiences have a higher probability of developing PTSD.
- PTSD can also affect children and members of the military, like Vietnam veteran Tony Viana, who’s struggled with symptoms since 1969.
HOW DO YOU DIAGNOSE PTSD?
To diagnose PTSD, your doctor will normally:
- Perform a physical exam to look for related medical issues.
- Do a mental assessment including a conversation of symptoms and the trauma or events that preceded them.
- Refer to criteria defined in the manual published by the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
- Diagnosis involves exposure to a trauma that involved the real or potential threat of violence, death, or serious injury.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY AND PTSD
Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) is a kind of psychotherapy that has steadily been discovered to be the most successful treatment of PTSD equally over the short term and also the long term. There are different kinds of CBT, but all contain elements of exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. Certain CBTs are specific to PTSD:
- Cognitive Processing Therapy “is an adaptation of cognitive therapy that aims toward the recognition and reevaluation of trauma-related thinking. The treatment focuses on the way people view themselves, others, and the world after experiencing a traumatic event. Often times inaccurate thinking after a traumatic event “keep you stuck” and thus prevent recovery from trauma.”
- Prolonged Exposure is another kind of CBT that depends more strongly on behavioral therapy techniques to assist individuals gradually in dealing with pain-related memories, emotions, and situations. This therapy concentrates on experiences to help people stop evading trauma reminders.
- Stress Inoculation Training is another kind of CBT that aims to lessen anxiety by teaching survival skills to handle the stress that could accompany PTSD. It can be utilized as a separate treatment or combined with one or more types of CBTs.
Research has shown that CBTs and other kinds of therapy can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms. Two of the most promising kinds involve the use of ketamine or ketamine-derived medications. In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of esketamine, dispensed as a nasal spray, to treat symptoms of PTSD. Ketamine infusion therapy also is used to the same effect.
OTHER KINDS OF TREATMENT
PTSD symptoms can also be treated with other therapy not considered cognitive behavioral therapy:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a kind of psychotherapy that involves processing disturbing trauma-related thoughts, memories, and feelings. It asks patients to pay attention to either a back and forth movement or a sound while contemplating the trauma memory.
- Present Centered Therapy is a kind of non-trauma dedicated treatment that clusters around present issues instead of directly processing the experience.
CARING FOR A LOVED ONE WITH PTSD
Caring for a loved one with PTSD requires commitment, compassion, and time. It can be exhausting physically and emotionally, but often helps the person deal with the symptoms. Some of the ways to help: Listen, but don’t push; decide on a time to talk; get help if suicide is discussed.
CAN YOU CURE PTSD
PTSD, like other mental health conditions, can’t be cured. There is no pill, vaccination, transfusion, or other treatment or therapy that will make it disappear. The best anyone can do is recognize the symptoms, try and manage them, and seek the help of a mental health professional when all else fails.
If you or a loved one is dealing with PTSD or has questions about the clinical use of ketamine to help treat symptoms we can help. We would like to invite you to give us a call to learn more about the innovative new treatments that are available.