PTSD Treatment

NHS

The main treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are talking therapies and medicine. Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting your feelings and getting professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD.

It's possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event or events occurred, which means it's never too late to get help.

Assessment

Before having treatment for PTSD, a detailed assessment of your symptoms will be carried out to ensure treatment is tailored to your individual needs. This may be carried out by a GP or specialist.

You can see a GP to start on this process, or you can refer yourself for assessment to a talking therapy service. You're likely to be offered treatment if you've had symptoms of PTSD for more than 4 weeks or your symptoms are severe.

There are a number of mental health specialists you may see if you have PTSD, such as a psychological therapist, psychologist, community psychiatric nurse or psychiatrist.

Active monitoring

If you have mild symptoms of PTSD, or you've had symptoms for less than 4 weeks, an approach called active monitoring may be recommended.

Active monitoring involves carefully monitoring your symptoms to see whether they improve or get worse.

It's sometimes recommended because 2 in every 3 people who develop problems after a traumatic experience get better within a few weeks without treatment. If active monitoring is recommended, you should have a follow-up appointment within 1 month.

Talking therapies

If you have PTSD that requires treatment, talking therapies are usually recommended first. A combination of a talking therapy and medicine may be recommended if you have severe or persistent PTSD.

A GP can refer you to an NHS talking therapies service or, in some cases, a specialist clinic.

You can also refer yourself directly to an NHS talking therapies service without a referral from a GP.

There are 3 main types of talking therapies used to treat people with PTSD.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of talking therapy that aims to help you manage problems by changing how you think and act.

Trauma-focused CBT uses a range of psychological techniques to help you come to terms with the traumatic event. For example, your therapist may ask you to face your traumatic memories by describing aspects of your experience in detail.

You may also be encouraged to gradually restart any activities you have avoided since your experience, such as driving a car if you had an accident.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychological treatment that's been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. It involves recalling the traumatic incident in detail while making eye movements, usually by following the movement of your therapist's finger. 

Medicine

The 2 medicines recommended to treat PTSD in adults are paroxetine and sertraline. Paroxetine and sertraline are both a type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

If medicine for PTSD is effective, it'll usually be continued for a minimum of 12 months before being gradually withdrawn over the course of 4 weeks or longer.

Children and young people

Trauma-focused CBT is usually recommended for children and young people with PTSD. This normally involves a course of 6 to 12 sessions that have been adapted to suit the child's age, circumstances and level of development.

Where appropriate, treatment includes consulting with and involving the child's family. Children who do not respond to trauma-focused CBT may be offered EMDR.

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Helplines & Web Chats

Samaritans
Action Mental Health
Association for Post-Natal Illness Helpline
Aware NI - Support Groups
Aware NI - Online Support Groups
Mind - Side by Side Online Community