A Mind at War: Treating Trauma

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been well-documented since the inception of written language. PTSD-like symptoms are described in many ancient texts, including the...

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been well-documented since the inception of written language. PTSD-like symptoms are described in many ancient texts, including the bible! Our modern view of PTSD came into existence in the 1980s when the condition became a recognized mental disorder in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders volume III (DSM-III) (Croque M. & Croque L., 2000). Our more modern understanding of PTSD has led to the conception of many modernized treatments for the condition. Let’s break down treatment options for PTSD.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy is considered to be the gold standard by the VA (“VA.gov | Veterans Affairs,” 2014). This form of therapy is based on the “emotional processing theory,” which suggests that PTSD is caused by the brain undergoing excessive fear conditioning. Fear conditioning is a process by which an individual learns to associate something harmful or unpleasant with something not inherently harmful (Watkins, Sprang, & Rothbaum, 2018). For example, if you were mugged in a park, you may experience fear conditioning and associate the park with the mugging. This might cause you to feel an intense fear response the next time you visit a park. For most individuals this fear will dissipate over time, from exposure to more parks without being mugged (your brain dissociates the two). However, for individuals with PTSD, the brain is much more reluctant to abolish this association. This is where Prolonged Exposure therapy can come in handy. Under the guidance of a therapist, the patient undergoes exposure to things that trigger their fear response (such as discussing traumatic memories) over a long period of time. By doing this in a safe, caring environment, the therapist can work to eliminate the association of the fear response with the traumatic memory (Eftekhari, Stines, & Zoellner, 2006). 

Newer research suggests that psychedelic drugs enhance the efficacy of existing psychotherapeutic treatments for PTSD. This has been shown to be especially true in individuals who have experienced several traumatic events and subsequently experience a more chronic form of PTSD (Krediet et al., 2020).

While PTSD can be incredibly debilitating, there is a lot of hope for a better future. Prolonged Exposure Therapy has been found to produce significant decreases in symptoms and even full remission in many patients (Watkins, Sprang, & Rothbaum, 2018). Every day, more and more treatments are being tested and frankly, the results are quite astounding. Easily-accessible psychedelic-enhanced treatments are on the horizon, and the data they show is incredibly promising!

Sources:

  • Crocq, M. A., & Crocq, L. (2000). From shell shock and war neurosis to posttraumatic stress disorder: a history of psychotraumatology. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 2(1), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2000.2.1/macrocq
  • Eftekhari, A., Stines, L. R., & Zoellner, L. A. (2006). Do You Need To Talk About It? Prolonged Exposure for the Treatment of Chronic PTSD. The Behavior Analyst Today, 7(1), 70–83. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0100141
  • Krediet, E., Bostoen, T., Breeksema, J., van Schagen, A., Passie, T., & Vermetten, E. (2020). Reviewing the Potential of Psychedelics for the Treatment of PTSD. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 23(6), 385–400. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijnp/pyaa018
  • VA.gov | Veterans Affairs. (2014). Retrieved March 14, 2021, from Va.gov website: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/prolonged_exposure.asp
  • Watkins, L. E., Sprang, K. R., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2018). Treating PTSD: A Review of Evidence-Based Psychotherapy Interventions. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00258


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