Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Treatment Options
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an emotional disorder which occurs after the experience of a physical trauma: commonly war, physical assault (particularly rape), car accidents, natural catastrophes, and even the unexpected death of a loved one. For the disorder to manifest the victim of the event must feel intense fear and helplessness, coupled with an expectancy of dying or being seriously injured themselves.
Sufferers of this debilitating condition will do anything to avoid places, people, or circumstances that remind them of the original traumatic event. Loss of memory surrounding many of the details of the actual event may also occur, and there may also be a numbing of the emotions in general, as if the person is in a perpetual state of shock, which in fact they are.
As previously discussed in PTSD: What Causes It? and PTSD: Diagnostic Criteria, personal circumstances play a large role in determining whether or not a person who experiences a traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD. Numerous studies have shown that the presence of a strong and supportive network of family and friends will limit the chances of the condition developing.
In a 1996 study of elementary school children who experienced Hurricane Andrew when it tore through Florida, more than 55% of students were deemed to be suffering moderate to severe symptoms of PTSD. When family structures were included as part of the study, those students who receive support and encouragement from parents and teachers were far less likely to report or exhibit symptoms of distress. One of the most likely reasons for the high levels of PTSD in Vietnam veterans is the absence of social support that these soldiers received on their return from active duty. Currently, the incidence of PTSD in those countries most affected by the 2004 Tsunami is very high, due to a lack of counseling resources.
Hence, the first line of treatment for a victim of a traumatic event is to establish a strong and supportive network of friends and professionals. This will effectively minimize the likelihood of PTSD developing. The medical fraternity is well aware of the necessity for early counseling, and news coverage of traumatic events such as school shootings and natural disasters are often accompanied by the words “witnesses to the accident have been offered counseling”.
In cases where PTSD is established, counseling is again useful as a means of unlocking the repressed images and thoughts the person is experiencing daily on a subconscious basis in an attempt to bring them into conscious awareness. Unlike treatment for phobias, it is almost impossible for the sufferer to undergo gradual exposure therapy to the event that traumatized them; therefore other ways have to be found to help the sufferer gradually re-experience the event in a controlled manner.
Drug therapy can also be helpful in alleviating the severe anxiety
and panic attacks which accompany PTSD. Currently, medications such
as the SSRI family of antidepressants are the drug treatment of choice
for this disorder.