Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone suffers any type of psychological trauma. People can have PTSD if they've engaged in military combat, endured or witnessed physical violence, or been diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. It's vital that PTSD sufferers get help in order to regain control of their lives. Here are the most common ways to do so:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, which sees a significant number of veterans with PTSD, cognitive behavioral therapy appears to be the most effective treatment for PTSD today.

How it works: A therapist helps the person with PTSD understand why certain thoughts are anxiety triggers and teaches him how to control this anxiety by replacing harmful thoughts with less upsetting ones. In this way, the person can break the pattern of destructive thoughts.

2. Exposure Therapy

Often used in conjunction with CBT, exposure therapy involves having the patient face his upsetting thoughts by talking about them and recalling them.

How it works: In this safe environment with the therapist, the person with PTSD can learn to stop fearing her thoughts and replace them with more productive ones. Patients may even use virtual reality programs to safely revisit the environment in which the trauma was experienced.

3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

During EMDR, a therapist might move her hand near a patient's eyes, encouraging him to follow the movement with his eyes.

How it works: Although not fully understood, EMDR appears to help trauma patients process their emotions. Some studies, however, show no benefit to these eye movements.

4. Group Therapy

According to Dr. Paul Schulz, associate professor of neurology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, veterans often find group therapy to be the most helpful treatment.

How it works:  The experience of re-exposing themselves to traumatic events by talking with others is particularly healing for people with PTSD. Group therapy also is less expensive than individual therapy.

5. Medication

PTSD treatment may include medication along with other therapies, although Dr. Schultz says that drugs may help alleviate symptoms but rarely remove them completely.

How it works: For severe PTDS, antipsychotic drugs may be prescribed for a period of time. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs also may help alleviate these conditions and allow for better sleep. For patients with persistent nightmares, therapists may have success with prazosin, a drug that tamps down the brain's production of an adrenaline-like substance called norepinephrine.

Perhaps the most important part of treating PTSD is recognizing it as soon as possible. "The big push now is to try to diagnose and treat PTSD early before it becomes chronic and more difficult to treat," says Dr. Schulz. "I see people all the time who don't know they have it, for example, they don't know what is causing their symptoms. And treatment trials are focusing on intervention with CBT or medications shortly after a traumatic event rather than years later."

Paul E. Schulz, MD, reviewed this article.



Dr. Paul Schulz, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. 713-500-3304; United States Department of Veterans Affairs. "Treatment of PTSD." Web.

Mayo Clinic. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTDS). Web.