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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress: Emerging Treatment Strategies

Promising non-medication therapies for treatment and prevention of PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that occurs following direct or indirect exposure to trauma. In cases of direct exposure to trauma symptoms of PTSD develop after a potentially life-threatening situation such as a serious injury, physical assault or threat of assault, torture or rape. PTSD may also result from indirect exposure to trauma such as ‘witnessing’ events that threaten the lives of others but do not directly affect the observer, or learning about a life-threatening event (especially one that affected a family member or friend). Symptoms of PTSD may begin within days following exposure to trauma or onset may be ‘delayed’ months or years. Symptoms of psychic numbing typically start immediately following exposure to trauma. Other symptoms that more often emerge in the days and weeks following trauma include repetitive intrusive memories of the traumatic experience (flashbacks), autonomic arousal (perspiration, rapid breathing, elevated heart rate), recurring nightmares, and hyper-vigilance. Traumatized individuals actively avoid situations that remind them of the traumatic event, may have amnesia of the traumatic event, and often experience profound feelings of detachment and loss.

Depressed mood, anxiety, anger, intense shame or guilt feelings, distractibility, irritability, and an exaggerated startle response may continue for years following exposure to trauma. Severely traumatized individuals may experience psychotic symptoms including dissociative symptoms (e.g. difficulty perceiving their body or the environment as ‘real’), and auditory or visual hallucinations. Traumatized individuals may be severely impaired by their symptoms and unable to function at work, in school, in relationships or other social contexts. Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) is a less severe variant of PTSD in which all symptoms resolve within one month following exposure to trauma. Roughly one half of individuals who are diagnosed with ASD eventually develop full-blown PTSD.

Conventional treatments of PTSD and their limitations

Pharmacological and psychological therapies endorsed by mainstream psychiatry reduce the severity of some PTSD symptoms however most conventional approaches have limited efficacy. As many as one half of all persons diagnosed with PTSD who are treated with prescription medications or conventional psychological therapies do not fully respond. PTSD resulting from violent assault, rape or traumatic exposure to combat is often characterized by severe symptoms that are poorly response to treatment. Furthermore many medications cause significant adverse effects resulting in poor adherence or early treatment discontinuation before PTSD responds to treatment. For example the long-term management of PTSD with serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other prescription medications frequently results in weight gain, sexual dysfunction and disturbed sleep. The limitations of current mainstream approaches invite open-minded consideration of the range of promising alternative and integrative approaches aimed at preventing PTSD following exposure to trauma and treating chronic PTSD.

Non-medication approaches used to prevent or treat PTSD

The limited effectiveness of available mainstream medication and psychotherapy treatments of PTSD invites serious consideration of complementary and alternative therapies. Natural supplements used to prevent PTSD (i.e. before or after exposure to trauma) or treat chonic PTSD include dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), omega-3 essential fatty acids and a proprietary micro-nutrient formula. Other non-medication approaches that can be used to prevent or treat PTSD include massage, dance/movement therapy, yoga, meditation and mindfulness training, virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) and EEG biofeedback training.

Mindfulness training may reduce symptoms of PTSD when improved attention permits increased control over intrusive thoughts or memories. Patients who engage in a mindfulness practice can be trained to shift attention from remembered fears to present-focused problem solving permitting improved coping. The therapeutic benefits of mantra meditation are believed to be related to the effects of repetitive chanting on reducing the overall level of arousal permitting improved emotional self-regulation. Important advantages of meditation in the treatment of PTSD include ease of training, low cost and practical implementation in group settings.

A new e-book reviews the evidence for non-medication therapies of PTSD

If you are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and taking a medication that isn’t decreasing your symptoms, you are experiencing adverse effects, or you simply can’t afford to continue taking a medication that is working you may benefit from my e-book Post-traumatic stress disorder: The Integrative Mental Health Solution—safe, effective and affordable non-medication treatments of PTSD. In the e-book I provide practical information about a variety of safe, effective and affordable non-medication alternatives that will help you feel and function better such as herbals, vitamins and other natural supplements, whole body approaches, meditation and mind-body practices, and energy therapies.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): The Integrative Mental Health Solution will help you
• Understand PTSD better
• Take inventory of your symptoms
• Learn about a variety of non-medication approaches for preventing or treating PTSD
• Develop a customized treatment plan that makes sense for you
• Re-evaluate your treatment plan and make changes if your initial plan doesn’t work

About the Author
James Lake, MD

James Lake, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, works to transform mental health care through the evidence-based uses of alternative therapies.

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