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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder caused by extreme emotional or physical trauma that is best treated through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).  There are a few different techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, but the two of the most common types used for PTSD treatment are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE), both of which have proven effectiveness with PTSD.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and PTSD Treatment

What is CPT:  Cognitive Processing Therapy helps an individual focus on how a traumatic event is understood by that person and how they coped with those effects.  When people experience traumatic events, it often changes the way we think about and interpret the world, including the actions of others.  Frequently, traumatic events produce irrational thoughts and beliefs, such as about safety, which can affect trust and relationships with others.  It is not unusual for a trauma to cause one to struggle with memories and thoughts of the event as they attempt to make sense of what they went through.  It’s also common for someone with PTSD to become confused and mis-understand the memories, thereby being unable to make sense of the traumatic event.  PTSD treatment must address your shattered sense of security and help you understand your experience.

CPT focuses on teaching skills to handle these distressing thoughts that become overwhelming. It focuses on helping you understand what happened and how the trauma changed the way you look at the world, yourself, and others. CPT will help you focus on your thoughts of the traumatic event and help you explain and challenge them. PTSD treatment helps you change the way you feel about the traumatic event by changing the way you think about or process it.

There are four main objectives to Cogntive Processing Therapy in PTSD treatment:

1.  Education about PTSD symptoms and how treatment can help.

2.  Becoming mindful of your thoughts and feelings related to the event.

3.  Developing skills to confront and change your thoughts or challenge your irrational beliefs.

4.  Accepting the inevitable changes in your own beliefs as a result of the trauma.

To help you build and use these new skills, your PTSD treatment will include practice assignments outside of your weekly therapy sessions. 

Desensitization Through Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE) and PTSD Treatment

What is PE: Prolonged Exposure Therapy is characterized by using small and brief repeated exposures to thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind you of the trauma and have been avoided because of extreme emotional distress. In PE PTSD treatment, with the help of your therapist, you will identify these avoidance behaviors and repeatedly confront those thoughts, feelings, and situations in a safe environment until your distress lessens.

Prolonged Exposure in PTSD treatment has four main objectives:

1.  Education to teach you about your symptoms, how they can be managed and benefits of treatment.

2.  Breathing retraining and relaxation training to help calm the physical feelings of anxiety.

3.  Talking through it and imagining yourself in it (imaginal exposure) to help you gain a sense of safety related to the trauma.

4.  Real world practice (in vivo exposure) in a safe setting to help you approach situations you have been avoiding due to fear.

In PE for PTSD treatment you’ll have practice assignments to do on your own. With practice, you will learn to manage your reactions to your memories of the trauma.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

While CBT is the most commonly used form of therapy for PTSD, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another technique that has become an effective PTSD treatment.

What is EMDR: This technique uses a distraction, such as hand movements or tapping while you talk about the traumatic event, to help you discuss the event. It is felt that these rapid eye movement makes it easier for your brain to work through traumatic memories, but EMDR may also be another form of in vivo desensitization, like that used in Prolonged Exposure, described above. It has also been proven to be effective in PTSD treatment.

EMDR has four main objectives:

1.  Identifying an image, belief or memory about the trauma.

2.  Reprocessing and desensitization of the triggers by focusing on mental images while doing eye movements.

3.  Replacing negative or irrational thoughts and images with more realistic and positive thoughts.

4.  Focusing on tension or unusual body sensations to help identify specific issues that may require attention as related to the traumatic event.

Medication in PTSD Treatment

SSRIs raise the chemical serotonin levels in your brain, which can help you feel more relaxed. The FDA has approved two SSRIs for PTSD treatment:  Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine).  Like all medications, SSRI’s have side effects and may include nausea, drowsiness, decreased libido, feeling tired or sleeping too much. PTSD treatment medications may also interact with other prescription drugs you are taking so be sure to let your doctor know about any drugs you are taking before starting an SSRI.  Typically, both medications and cognitive behavioral therapy will form the foundations for your PTSD treatment.

Because our PTSD treatment  relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from depression and other mental health disorders.  In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of PTSD, depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a PTSD treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.