Nipping PTSD in the Bud

Early intervention may be the key in treating posttraumatic stress disorder.

By George Everly, Jr., published on March 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Therapists are finding that early intervention as well as other forms of therapy can be useful tools for PTSD recovery.

From hurricanes to war: Early intervention often includes structured group discussions within three to ten days of the trauma. Participants are divided into small groups where they voluntarily talk about the traumatic event, express what their thoughts were at the time it occurred, describe the worst aspects of the event and discuss their reactions to the trauma. Professionals warn, however, that care must be taken with early intervention. Studies show that one-on-one single-session treatment shortly after trauma can diminish rather than enhance its effectiveness.

Cognitive behavioral approaches such as stress inoculation training (SIT) and prolonged exposure (PE) also are effective in relieving PTSD symptoms. Skills such as relaxation, thought stopping and guided self-dialogue form the core of SIT, whereas PE involves multiple sessions where the patient relives the traumatic experience in a safe environment until it loses its potency.

A less traditional approach called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which initially required patients to fix their eyes upon the therapist's rapidly moving finger, instead now employs oscillating taps or tones while the patient concentrates upon the traumatic event in the hope of becoming desensitized to it. Controlled research on EMDR is largely supportive and many practicing clinicians report positive results with their patients.

Finally, on the pharmaceutical front, Zoloft and Paxil are the only drugs that are approved for the treatment of PTSD.

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