Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric health condition typically triggered by a past event witnessed or experienced. People living with PTSD are frequently overwhelmed by intense feelings of fear, horror, sadness, and helplessness. Traumatic events like losing a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, war, accidents, and natural disasters are some of the most common PTSD triggers.
PTSD patients may also have to deal with feelings of guilt, anger, and shock that may become increasingly stronger until they can no longer go about their normal activities. Symptoms of PTSD can last for years and will typically become more severe if left untreated.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a relatively prevalent condition. About 7 to 8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, according to the National Center for PTSD.
How Is PTSD Diagnosed?
The signs and symptoms of PTSD vary among individuals. The condition is not diagnosed until a month after the traumatic event. Mental health professionals group PTSD symptoms into four categories:
Intrusive thoughts are marked by recurring, unwanted memories of the traumatic event. The sufferer may have flashbacks and nightmares about the event. There may also be emotional and physical reactions to things or other occurrences that remind the individual of the traumatic episodes.
A patient with avoidance symptoms of PTSD will try to avoid thinking or speaking about their traumatic experience. They may also want to avoid activities, places, and people who bring memories of the traumatic episodes.
Increased Arousal and Reactivity
Arousal and reactivity symptoms are marked by irritability, a constant edgy feeling, bursts of anger, and an exaggerated response to startling stimuli. Other symptoms like elevated blood pressure, tense muscles, rapid heart rate, and nausea may also accompany this arousal and reactivity.
Negative Cognitions and Mood
PTSD patients may have negative feelings about themselves and others around them. They may also experience depression and panic attacks related to the traumatic event.
Treatment of PTSD
Mental health professionals treat PTSD using one or a combination of therapy and medications. The FDA approves antidepressants like Paroxetine (Paxil) and Sertraline (Zoloft) to manage and treat PTSD-related symptoms.
Psychotherapeutic approaches to dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder involve helping patients develop coping mechanisms and skills for dealing with the condition. There are several psychotherapeutic management approaches to dealing with PTSD with varying degrees of effectiveness.
We will examine the effectiveness of cognitive therapy and meditation as methods of PTSD treatment.
Cognitive Therapy for PTSD
Cognitive therapy is a treatment method based on the premise that faulty thinking is responsible for unhealthy behavior and unstable emotions. Thus, the cognitive therapist tries to get the patients to change their unhelpful ways of thinking and feeling, to help alleviate the symptoms of the ailment. Cognitive therapy focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behavior and how an adjustment can improve the other.
The patient learns self-help skills that help reorder their thinking, feeling, and behavior. Cognitive therapy for PTSD typically starts with an initial assessment. The therapist evaluates the patient’s symptoms based on standardized guidelines covering anxiety, depression, emotions, personality, and other issues. The answers from the initial assessment allow the therapist to evaluate the severity of the PTSD and decide the best course of action.
Patients may also have to undergo periodic assessments to help the therapist evaluate progress and see what part of the treatment requires adjustments. The cognitive therapist works with the patient to develop personalized techniques and interventions that will be most effective.
According to StuffThatWorks.health, which uses AI and crowdsourcing to identify effective medical treatments, cognitive therapy ranks as the fourth most effective treatment method for PTSD from a list of 50 treatment options. It’s worth noting that this value was collated using data from 28,000+ PTSD patients.
That said, cognitive therapy typically takes about 12 to 16 sessions to deliver for an individual or group.
Meditation for PTSD
Meditation has been touted as a treatment or management mechanism for a broad range of ailments. There is not enough research to accurately determine the effectiveness of meditative practices for PTSD management. However, several PTSD patients have found meditation to help deal with their symptoms. Unpleasant thoughts and memories trigger PTSD and practicing meditation can help patients take their minds away from those unwanted thoughts.
Meditation is a practice that attempts to get you to focus your attention on the present moment and nothing else. The idea behind meditation is that developing the ability to concentrate your thoughts into a single moment alone helps eliminate stress, improve calmness, sharpen your focus, and enhance your overall well-being.
There is a rising interest in the subject of meditation as therapy or as an aid to therapy. There are several meditative techniques for patients who want to explore meditation as an option for dealing with PTSD.
According to AI-generated data from StuffThatWorks.health, meditation ranks as the 20th most effective PTSD treatment mode. This ranking comes from a list of over 50 alternatives that cut across therapy and medication.
Other Psychotherapeutic Methods of Treating PTSD
There are other therapeutic interventions for PTSD with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET)
Prolonged exposure therapy lets the patient confront the events or activities that trigger the disorder. The patient may learn to breathe while relieving or talking about the traumatic events. They may also make a list of the things they’ve been avoiding and why. Continuous exposure to the source of trauma can reduce or even eliminate PTSD symptoms.
Present-Centered Therapy (PCT)
Present-centered therapy focuses on the patient’s present issues rather than the event that caused the trauma. The idea of PCT is to enlighten the patient on the effects of trauma and their quality of life and equip them with skills and strategies for dealing with the present stressors they may be facing.
Stress reactions are normal after witnessing or going through trauma. Most people who experience these events get over it and do not have to battle post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, quick intervention can prevent trauma from becoming full-blown PTSD.
Therapy combined with medication is often the best course of action for most PTSD sufferers. It is advisable to seek professional help for accurate diagnosis and help you develop a treatment method most suited to your experiences and needs.
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