Interventions for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

15 June 2020 / By R&D

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition characterized by failure to recover after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. This condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions. This may include shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and even guilt. For a person with PTSD, these feelings continue and can even increase, becoming so strong that they may keep the person from healing fully.

Symptoms may include nightmares or flashbacks, avoidance of situations that bring back the trauma, heightened reactivity to stimuli, anxiety or depressed mood.



Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment can help the individuals regain a sense of control over their life. The primary treatment is psychotherapy, along with medication. Combining these treatments can help improve the symptoms by: Teaching skills to address present symptoms; Helping individuals think better about themselves, others and the world; Learning ways to cope if any symptoms arise again; Treating other problems often related to traumatic experiences, such as depression, anxiety, or misuse of alcohol or drugs.


The main treatments for people with PTSD are specific short-term psychotherapies. Some of them are:

  1. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that has consistently been found to be the most effective treatment of PTSD both in the short term and the long term. CBT for PTSD is trauma-focused therapy, which involves the trauma event(s) as the centre of the treatment. It focuses on identifying, understanding, and changing patterns of thinking and behaviour. The treatment involves the individual to engage in and outside of weekly appointments and learn skills to be applied to their symptoms. The skills learned during therapy sessions are practiced repeatedly and help support symptom improvement.

While different CBTs have different amounts of both exposure and cognitive interventions, they are the main components of CBT that have been repeatedly found to help in symptom reduction.

  • Exposure therapy. This intervention helps people face and control their fears by exposing them to the trauma memory they experience in a safe environment. Exposure can use mental imagery, writing, or visits to places or people that remind them of their trauma. Regardless of the method of exposure, a person is often gradually exposed to the trauma to help them become less sensitive over time.


  • Cognitive Restructuring. This type of intervention helps people make sense of bad memories. Oftentimes people remember their trauma differently than how it happened. Cognitive restructuring helps people look at what happened with fact to get a realistic perspective on the trauma.

There are a lot of therapies that come under the umbrella Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Depending on the situation, these are the common therapies which are used:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)is an adaptation of cognitive therapy that aims at the recognition and revaluation of trauma-related thinking. In CPT, individuals look at why the trauma occurred and the impact it has had on their thinking. It can be especially helpful for people who, to some extent, blame themselves for a traumatic event. CPT focuses on learning skills to evaluate whether the thoughts are supported by facts and whether there are more helpful ways to think about the particular trauma.
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) is another form of CBT that relies more heavily on behavioural therapy techniques to help individuals gradually approach trauma related memories, situations, and emotions. PE focuses on exposures to help people with PTSD stop avoiding trauma reminders. Avoiding these reminders may help them in the short term, but in the long term it prevents recovery from PTSD.
  • Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) is another type of CBT that aims to reduce anxiety by teaching coping skills to deal with stress that may accompany PTSD. This is done through teaching different types of coping skills which may include breathing retraining, muscle relaxation, cognitive restructuring, and assertiveness skills.

Other Interventions

  1. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that involves processing upsetting trauma-related memories, thoughts and feelings. EMDR asks people to pay attention to either a sound or a back and forth movement while thinking about the trauma memory.
  1. Present Cantered Therapy (PCT)is a type of non-trauma focused treatment that centres around current issues rather than directly processing the trauma. PCT provides psycho-education about the impact of trauma on one’s life as well as teaching problem solving strategies to deal with current life stressors. Under PCT, common benefits emerge from a caring therapeutic relationship, including instillation of hope and optimism, shared goal setting, and increased positive self‐regard.


Depending on the situation and severity of the symptoms underlying PTSD, medication may often be necessary in the treatment. One of the more common types of medications used are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are antidepressants, and depressed mood can be part of PTSD.  Since everyone’s PTSD isn’t the same, doctors may prescribe medications “off label,” too. These may include: Antidepressants; Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs); Antipsychotics or second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs); Beta-blockers; Benzodiazepine.



6 Common Treatments For PTSD. Retrieved from here

Belsher, B. E., Beech, E., Evatt, D., Smolenski, D. J., Shea, M. T., Otto, J. L., Rosen, C. S.,  Schnurr, P. P. (2019). Present-centered therapy (PCT) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. Retrieved from here.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from here.

PTSD Facts and Treatment. Retrieved from here.

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