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Treatment Options for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Service Member using cell phone

Source: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Hazard/Released

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological health concern that can occur following a traumatic or life-threatening event. You can learn to cope with and recover from these events over time. However, others may experience stress-related changes in behavior that continue for months and develop into PTSD.1 Just as service members may experience different symptoms of PTSD, there are several options for care. This article provides information about the types of care and treatment available for PTSD and how to access them.

What is PTSD?

PTSD may occur when you experience intense stress from a traumatic or life-threatening event, such as combat exposure, natural disasters or any event that may harm your physical or psychological well-being. Reactions to trauma may include 1,2,3:

  • Reliving:
    • Frequently remembering trauma
    • Re-experiencing fear felt at time of trauma
    • Having nightmares
    • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Avoidance:
    • Avoiding thoughts and conversations associated with trauma
    • Avoiding activities, places or people that relate to trauma
  • Negativity
    • Feeling guilty or ashamed
    • Having trouble expressing feelings
    • Feeling like no one can be trusted
    • Changing the way you think about yourself and others
  • Arousal:
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Feeling easily annoyed
    • Extreme and constant alertness
    • Difficulty concentrating

These symptoms are common responses to traumatic events. If left untreated, they can lead to other concerns such as substance abuse, depression or relationship problems. If symptoms impact daily life, you should consider seeking professional health care.

Accessing Care

Military treatment facilities are medical centers, hospitals or clinics that provide care for service members and their families. They are available on almost every installation and accept TRICARE, the insurance provider of the military health system. If you live near a military treatment facility, it should be your first stop for seeking care for PTSD.1 During your visit, a health care professional will talk with you about your trauma and symptoms and provide recommendations for care.

Veterans can seek health care at a local Department of Veterans Affairs medical center. The centers provide health care for physical and psychological health concerns, including PTSD. PTSD specialists are available to help veterans access care or treatment through a program that is most appropriate for them. 2

Treatment Options for PTSD

There are many treatment options available for PTSD. When seeking treatment, you can expect a safe and controlled setting to discuss the traumatic event and any symptoms you may have. The most common form of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This can be in individual, group or family settings. Types of CBT include: 3,4

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Write down or speak out loud about trauma, confront situations you have avoided and review trauma until memories are less painful
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy: Learn skills to change your negative beliefs associated with trauma and understand how it has changed your thoughts or feelings
  • Stress Inoculation Training: Learn breathing and muscle relaxation skills and practice controlling your thoughts

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another treatment for PTSD. In EMDR therapy, you focus on sounds and alternating eye and hand movements while thinking of the trauma to reduce anxiety of the memory.4 You also learn relaxation methods to help you cope with PTSD symptoms.

Patient-Centered Community Care, a new program by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offers veterans better access to high quality health care through partnerships with local community providers. These civilian providers meet VA care standards and provide additional resources for veterans who seek care for PTSD and other psychological health concerns.5

Alternative Care Options

There are alternative care options that may also provide relief for PTSD symptoms. These include:4

  • Acupuncture
  • Mindfulness (e.g., yoga, relaxation techniques)
  • Prescribed medications

A health care professional can provide guidance on the use of alternative care options in treating PTSD.

Reaching Out Makes a Difference

Reaching out for support is a sign of strength. Treatment options are accessible and can be effective in helping you cope with PTSD. If you or someone you know is in need of immediate help, log on to Real Warriors Live Chat or call the Psychological Health Resource Center at 866-966-1020. Trained health care professionals are available 24/7 to offer free assistance.

Additional Resources


1Understanding PTSD,” [PDF 1.36MB] National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Published August 2013.  Last accessed July 29, 2014.

2PTSD Treatment Programs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Department ofVeterans Affairs. Last updated Jan. 3, 2014. Last accessed July 29, 2014.

3 "Understanding PTSD treatment,” [PDF 1.45MB] National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Published August 2013. Last accessed July 29, 2014.

4 "PTSD Treatment Options,” Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Last updated June 29, 2014. Last accessed July 29, 2014.

5PC3,” Department of Veterans Affairs. Last updated April 11, 2014. Last accessed July 29, 2014.

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