Many people have some symptoms of PTSD in the first couple of weeks after a traumatic event, but most recover on their own or with the help of family and friends. For this reason, treatment does not usually start until at least 2 weeks after a traumatic experience.
Everyone's PTSD is different, so you might need to try a few different types of treatment before you find something that works for you.
Medicine for PTSD is usually not recommended unless symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, or unless the symptoms are so bad that psychological treatments aren't working. Generally, it's best to start with psychological treatment rather than use medicine as the first and only solution to the problem.
Treating PTSD with psychotherapy
Some treatments include:
- Trauma-focused cognitive behaviour therapy (TF-CBT), which involves working through memories of the trauma in a safe and structured environment, trying to change unhelpful beliefs and thoughts, and gradual exposure to triggers which are being avoided
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), which involves working through memories of the trauma while going through a series of eye movements
It may take between 8 and 12 psychotherapy sessions to begin to get relief from symptoms. For some people, the condition may have become chronic and can take much longer to treat. The sooner treatment begins, the better.
Medicines for PTSD
Antidepressant medicine can help with PTSD. It can be recommended if symptoms do not completely go away with psychotherapy, or the person is unable to have therapy for some reason. Antidepressants can reduce anxiety and fear, depression and anger.
It's important to be aware of the possible side effects and to maintain regular contact with a doctor or mental health practitioner while you're using the medications.
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Supporting someone with PTSD
Research has shown that support from family and friends is important in helping someone overcome the debilitating effects of PTSD. Couples or family therapy can help to fix damaged relationships. In some cases, family members may need to seek support of their own.
With support and the right treatment, the symptoms of PTSD can diminish over time and it is possible for the person to fully enjoy life again.
If a person with PTSD has feelings of self-harm or suicide, then treat this as a medical emergency and dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
For detailed information on the most effective treatments for PTSD, see The Australian Guidelines for the Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Last reviewed: November 2018