The fastest, easiest, least painful and most effective treatment for PTSD is EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR does not involve medications.
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a revolutionary treatment which has been used, developed and researched for 20 years now. It offers a much faster and more humane way to resolve trauma permanently, relieving symptoms left by the trauma. If you don't have a traumatic history prior to having had a single or a couple of traumas, and you're having PTSD symptoms, EMDR is almost certain to relieve you permanently of these aftereffects of the trauma. Any good treatment includes forming a trusting relationship with a therapist so that your feelings and thoughts associated with the trauma can be expressed, grieved, and healed. However, EMDR speeds up this healing process tremendously. if you've been traumatized, you owe it to yourself and those who love you to get good EMDR treatment. (If you're interested to know more about EMDR and trauma, please see my EMDR page, and my book recommendations page).
Some examples of clients I've treated with EMDR:
(Identifying details were changed and withheld to protect client confidentiality)
These resolved within 1-3 sessions of EMDR:
Highway patrol officer who witnessed a mass murder and was permanently retired from the police department because of post traumatic stress symptoms. He had no more symptoms after EMDR.
Woman who had panic attacks when her partner touched her breasts. She'd been molested as a child by a family friend. She had no more discomfort with her partner touching her breasts after EMDR
Woman who was terrified of spiders. After EMDR she didn't even mind a spider living in her bathroom, and didn't bother to remove it.
Woman who had been compulsively shoplifting for 20 years. After EMDR she had no need or desire to shoplift anymore.
Man who was panicking about speaking in front of an audience. He did his speech with no fear after EMDR and it was very successful.
Woman who felt trapped and victimized by her adult daughter living in her house and believed she couldn't do anything about it. After EMDR she told her daughter she had to move out and got her out within a couple of weeks.
Woman who was terrified of needles and unable to get the medical tests she needed. After EMDR she was no longer afraid of needles and never had a problem getting tests involving needles.
Woman who was crying in despair most of every day for weeks after a surgery. After EMDR she was her normal happy self again.
Woman who had been badly abused and neglected as a child had a very loving grandfather who had since died. Whenever she thought about him, she felt overwhelmingly sad, so avoided thinking about him. After EMDR she was able to think about him often and enjoy the comforting feelings of her relationship with him.
Woman who was unable to bond with her baby because he had been born limp, gray and not breathing, and she had been convinced he was dead. He was fine after a little oxygen, but she'd been so traumatized in that moment that she continued to feel as if he was going to die, and avoided that pain by avoiding contact with him. After EMDR she was totally open and free to bond with him and enjoy him, as if nothing had happened.
Woman who'd had breast cancer and was still traumatized by the moment of diagnosis, the surgery, the chemo, and many other moments was now afraid of doctors, hospitals, proceedures, and couldn't get checked to be sure she was still cancer-free. After EMDR she was able to go to the doctor and get tests without fear.
Man who was so depressed he could barely get out of bed to come to the appointment. After EMDR he was able to get a job, exercise, work on his many life problems, and feel really happy and good.
These took longer and were more complicated to resolve, but did:
Woman who had retired a couple of years earlier and had no idea what to do with herself. She felt like her only identity was as a teacher and didn't know who she was now, if she had any value, and what to do with her freedom for the rest of her life. After working together for a year and a half using both EMDR and relational psychotherapy, she was engaged in several activities she loved and felt like her. She had a rich, full life and felt a sense of having value and purpose.
Woman who had a severely abusive childhood and believed her only value was as arm candy to rich older men. She treated people like objects to manipulate for her purposes, and was full of secrets and lies. After 2 years of work together, some EMDR, more relational psychotherapy, she found and married a loving, fun man her own age, blossomed in her career, and had a strong sense of herself as a good, honest, smart, loving person she liked. She was able to understand and talk about herself brutally honestly at a deep level and did so with her husband and close friends. One by one she gave up her secrets and resolved her need to do things that made her feel shame and replaced that with integrated integrity in everything she did, and who she was.
There are so many of these...to be continued.
Here is how the inventor of EMDR is now describing EMDR Therapy:
"Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This therapy is based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the result of unprocessed memories. The treatment involves standardized procedures that include focusing simultaneously on (a) spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations and (b) bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements.
Like CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive beliefs related to the traumatic event. Unlike CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR does not involve (a) detailed descriptions of the event, (b) direct challenging of beliefs, (c) extended exposure, or (d) homework."
Here are some resources and links about PTSD and EMDR:
What causes PTSD?
The medical understanding of trauma is any event that causes such overwhelming feelings, usually including fear, that our emotional system cannot handle them all at once. This causes our brain to go into crisis-mode, and parts of our brain shut down. We are primed to run away, fight, freeze (be invisible to predators who can only see movement) or collapse (appear dead to predators, who are uninterested in meat that is already dead before they kill it). These are the four natural responses animals have to threat, in an attempt to survive. For animals, after the crisis is over, there is a period of physical energy release--shaking, running, shivering, vocalizing, etc, and this seems to prevent any long term psychological effects. Very often, this process in humans, which would look like sobbing, shaking, fist pounding, screaming, processing in dreams with eye movements, etc doesn't happen, and we often do end up with long term psychological effects.
Generally, the first reaction to trauma is shock, numbness, disbelief. When our emotional systems get overloaded, we shut down regular operation to protect ourselves from the overload. While the numbness and disbelief may come and go and come again, feelings of anger, sadness, and fear erupt through it for various periods of time. This may last only for hours or days, if the traumatized person feels safe to express all the feelings to an empathic listener. When there is pressure or danger that dictates the person who experienced or witnessed the traumatic event cannot express the feelings involved, the symptoms of unresolved trauma can last up to a lifetime, without treatment.
There is also another kind of trauma, with not one dramatic event, but repeated emotionally hurtful experiences. For example, if a Nun in a school hit a child hard with a ruler across their knuckles so many times the adult years later doesn't even remember specific incidents, this is also trauma. Or if a parent gives a child a contemptuous look so often that it is part of how the child thinks about the father--as the one who shames her/him, that is trauma, and so forth.
What can I do about PTSD?
The most important things to do on your own to heal trauma are to talk with trusted people about your thoughts and feelings about what happened, and also express them physically--in crying, sobbing, punching/hitting something safe, playing sports while thinking about the trauma, etc. Also art, and writing, as well as other creative outlets can be healing.
People find it helpful to call on whatever spirituality they have. Even without any belief in God, focusing on what is still good, what is still safe, what is meaningful, what good may even come of tragedy, how we are strong, and where there is love can help enormously. Love is an antidote to fear, so going toward love and whatever is meaningful can help.
Anyone who feels suicidal or homicidal, very depressed or very anxious, is unable to function (sleep, eat, work, relate, love, make love, etc.) normally, or unable to feel anything, finds themselves addicted to anything or abusing alcohol, street drugs, or prescription drugs, is experiencing intrusive horrific images, or frequent nightmares should seek professional help.