Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Explains post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

Your stories

Understanding PTSD

Annabelle blogs about how Mind's information helped her see past her trauma.

Annabelle
Posted on 30/07/2015

My cPTSD diagnosis

Mick tells us about his difficult path to a cPTSD diagnosis (complex post-tramatic stress disorder).

Posted on 25/09/2017

What treatments are available?

This page covers:

Watchful waiting
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.

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.

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. (See the section on EMDR in our pages on talking treatments for more information about this therapy.)

NICE may recommend other talking treatments in future if they are found to help with PTSD, but more research is needed.

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:

  • you also have depression
  • you have sleep problems caused by PTSD
  • you are unable or unwilling to try talking treatments.

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.)

Before you take any medication

Before you decide to take any medication, you should make sure you have all the facts you need to feel confident about your decision. For guidance on what you might want to know about any drug before you take it, see our pages on:

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.

Accessing treatment

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 – you can search for these on the NHS Choices website.
  • Specialist organisations. (See useful contacts 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.


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