Living with Chronic Pain

Conventional Treatment Options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


Psychotherapy and medications are the two most common treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Several options are available within both of these treatments. Oftentimes, different treatment options need to be tried in order to determine the best combination of treatments to relieve PTSD symptoms.

Psychotherapy for PTSD

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help with processing the memories associated with the traumatic event. This can occur during individual therapy, group therapy, or a combination of both.

Types of psychotherapy used in the treatment of PTSD include the following:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves changing thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. Specific types of CBT include cognitive processing therapy or stress inoculation training.

  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) involves learning to challenge and change unhelpful beliefs related to the traumatic event. This reduces the negative effects of the event on the person’s daily life.
  • Stress inoculation training (SIT) involves learning to deal with the negative thoughts that surround traumatic events through the use of relaxation techniques, such as massage, breathing techniques, or other skills.
Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy involves facing frightening memories and situations. This may involve recounting traumatic experiences or using virtual reality programs to revisit a setting where a traumatic event occurred. A therapist is present to teach breathing techniques and other strategies to reduce anxiety.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

This type of therapy combines exposure therapy with specific, guided eye movements. EMDR therapy can reduce intense emotions and change negative reactions associated with traumatic memories. EMDR therapy should only be done with a therapist who is trained and certified in EMDR.

Medications for PTSD

Certain medications can help reduce the intensity of PTSD symptoms, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and prazosin (an alpha-blocker).

  • Antidepressants are often the first choice of medication treatment used for PTSD. Specifically, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) sertraline and paroxetine are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of PTSD. If these SSRIs are not effective, other antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) be prescribed.
  • Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines or beta-blockers, may be prescribed for a short time to relieve severe anxiety associated with PTSD.
  • Prazosin, an alpha-blocker, can be used to treat sleep disturbances and nightmares related to PTSD. Currently, there is no standardized dosage of prazosin for the treatment of PTSD. Individuals must work with their clinician to find the dosage that works for them.
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