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Treating PTSD

If you have identified signs of PTSD in your active duty service member, the next step is to seek out treatment at your base medical center. VA medical centers and veterans centers also offer PTSD treatment programs for veterans at little or no cost. Veterans who are eligible for treatment have completed active military service and were not dishonorably discharged. National Guard members and Reservists also qualify for services if they were mobilized to a combat zone.

What to Expect During Treatment

PTSD programs begin with mental health assessments and testing. An initial PTSD screen, consisting of a short list of questions, will be conducted to determine if the service member needs to be assessed further. If recommended for further assessment, an evaluator will ask questions about traumatic events and any symptoms the service member is suffering.

If diagnosed with PTSD, a therapist will discuss and agree on a treatment plan with the service member. PTSD treatment plans may include individual therapy, medications, family therapy, and group therapy. Treatment often lasts 3 to 6 months but can last longer.

Individual therapy methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) have been effective in treating PTSD.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help identify the negative thoughts associated with the traumatic experience, such as guilt or self-blame, and convert these into more logical, helpful beliefs.

Exposure therapy is a method in which a person overcomes their fears through therapist guided confrontation of feared places, thoughts, situations, places, and feelings. Typically this is done by viewing images, verbally describing, or writing out the details of the traumatic experience to desensitize the person and reduce the anxiety caused by PTSD.

EMDR uses a person's eye movements to process traumatic information by directing the person to follow an object or light while thinking of the traumatic event. EMDR is said to link the distressing memory with more adaptive information and helps to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with the traumatic event.

In group therapy, service members develop supportive relationships and share their traumatic experiences with others coping with PTSD. In family therapy, they share their symptoms, fears, and worries with close family members and discuss the ways their family can provide support throughout treatment and recovery.

Medications prescribed for PTSD depend on the symptoms. Often antidepressants are prescribed to reduce sadness and anxiety. Other medications may be prescribed for insomnia or psychotic thoughts. Service members should discuss with a doctor what medications may help alleviate their symptoms.

How long will PTSD Last?

The course of PTSD is different for everyone. Symptoms may begin immediately after the traumatic event or can be delayed for many years. Most people experience reduced symptoms within one year, but approximately 30 percent suffer with a long lasting, severe form of PTSD. Some sufferers may experience an increase in symptoms following significant events, such as retirement, serious illnesses, or military reunions.

The devastating impact of PTSD has been widely acknowledged and service members no longer have to conceal their suffering. If you are a service member or the family of a service member coping with PTSD, you are not alone. You have sacrificed many years in support of your country. Treatment is now available to help you reclaim the lives you deserve.


Sources:

National Center for PTSD: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/index.asp
Department of Veterans Affairs (2004). VA/DOD Clinical practice guideline for the management of post-traumatic stress. Washington D.C.: Department of Defense.


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