The first-line treatment for people with trauma-related disorders is trauma-focused psychotherapy. Medications are sometimes prescribed to treat specific symptoms, such as sleep difficulties, sadness, and irritability. Dr. Phillips, can you tell us more about psychotherapy treatments?
Sure thing, Dr. Jerman. Psychotherapy for trauma-related distress typically takes place in an individual setting, but may be done in a group setting as well. Support from family and friends during psychotherapy treatment is an important part of recovery. In fact, research suggests that the involvement of key support persons, such as a spouse or partner, may lead to much better outcomes.
While some therapies focus on social, family, or job-related problems that are peripheral to the disorder, the most effective therapies tend to focus directly on the trauma-related memories and symptoms of avoidance. These therapies also emphasize education regarding triggers of symptoms and skills to better manage those symptoms.
Two forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, have proven especially effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The first is called prolonged exposure therapy. Prolonged exposure therapy helps reduce problematic avoidant behaviors by repeatedly exposing the patient to memories of the traumatic event in a safe environment. Over time, the anxiety and distress associated with the memories decrease.
The second form of CBT used to treat PTSD is called cognitive processing therapy. It is similar to prolonged exposure, but places special emphasis on changing unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts associated with the traumatic event.
Both treatments help patients overcome negative memories and thoughts that might be preventing them from participating in meaningful activities and relationships. In many cases, patients no longer meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis after they've completed a full course of treatment.