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If you have had PTSD symptoms for less than four weeks or they are relatively mild, your GP might suggest an approach called 'watchful waiting' before offering you any treatment. This involves monitoring your symptoms yourself to see if things improve. In this case you should be offered a follow-up appointment within one month.
Talking treatments for PTSD
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best practice in health care – currently recommends two types of talking treatment for PTSD:
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT). This is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) specifically adapted for PTSD. NICE recommends that you are offered 8–12 regular sessions of around 60–90 minutes, seeing the same therapist at least once a week. See our pages on CBT for more information about this therapy.
- Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). This is a fairly new treatment that can reduce PTSD symptoms such as being easily startled. It involves making rhythmic eye movements while recalling the traumatic event. The rapid eye movements are intended to create a similar effect to the way your brain processes memories and experiences while you’re sleeping. EMDR UK & Ireland - a professional association of EMDR clinicians and researchers - provides extensive information about EMDR on its website.
NICE may recommend other talking treatments in future if they are found to help with PTSD, but more research is needed.
One of the most disturbing things has been the feelings of aggression and anger towards anyone who looks like the person who attacked me... EMDR therapy has been massively helpful.
What if I don't feel better?
If the talking treatment you try doesn't seem to be helping, NICE suggests that you:
- tell your doctor or therapist you were expecting to feel differently
- ask if you need more treatment, or a different type of treatment.
Your doctor or therapist should offer you a second course of treatment or a follow-up appointment. You can read the full guidelines for PTSD in English or Welsh on the NICE website.
Medication for PTSD
People experiencing PTSD aren't routinely prescribed medication. However, you might be offered medication if:
If you are offered medication for PTSD, this will usually be an antidepressant. While PTSD is not the same as depression, this type of medication has been found to help. NICE recommends four antidepressants in particular:
Some doctors may choose to prescribe other antidepressants for PTSD, such as sertraline. See our pages on antidepressants for more information about this kind of medication.
Other treatment options
Some people with PTSD say they have found other treatments helpful in managing their condition, such as group therapy, arts therapies or dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). However, the NICE guidelines say that treatments that have not been designed or properly tested for people who have experienced trauma should not be used on their own.
Pre-trial therapy for prosecution witnesses
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines for vulnerable witnesses, which includes anyone giving evidence about rape or sexual assault, say that some forms of therapy can "present problems" if someone has them before giving evidence which may be used in a trial.
For information about this you can speak to Victim Support, which is a charity in England and Wales that aims to help victims and witnesses of any crime, or you could talk to an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) – The Survivors Trust has a list of ISVAs on their website.
Here are some ways you could access treatment:
- Your GP. To get treatment on the NHS, you could visit your doctor (also known as your GP). For advice on preparing for a GP appointment, see our Find the Words guide.
- Free NHS therapy services. You might be able to directly contact Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services in your area (if you live in England) – you can search for these on the NHS Choices website.
- Specialist organisations. See our useful contacts page for organisations that may offer therapy or be able to put you in touch with local services.
- Local trauma services. Some organisations offer free or low-cost trauma therapy. Your local Mind may have information about services in your area.
- Private therapists. Finding a private therapist is another option some people choose to explore.
(See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem and talking treatments for more information about accessing treatment.)
This information was published in May 2017. We will revise it in 2020.