PTSD: Treatment - Mental Health
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PTSD: Treatment

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No matter where you live, treatment and support are available for Veterans coping with PTSD.

Each VAMC has PTSD specialists who provide treatment, including Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure therapy. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is also offered in a growing number of locations. In addition, VA has approximately 130 specialized PTSD treatment programs throughout the country. You and your provider can work together to decide how to move forward based on your needs and what treatments are available.

The PTSD Treatment Decision Aid is a great way to learn about treatments and consider which one is right for you.

Trauma-Focused Psychotherapies

Trauma-focused psychotherapies are the most highly recommended treatment for PTSD. “Trauma-focused” means that the treatment focuses on your memory of the traumatic event or its meaning.

VA offers three of the most effective trauma-focused psychotherapies:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): CPT teaches people to identify how traumatic experiences have affected their thinking. It also teaches them to evaluate and change their thoughts. CPT usually takes 12 sessions and can be delivered in an individual or group format. The goal is for patients to learn ways to have more healthy and balanced beliefs about themselves, others, and the world.
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy: PE works by teaching people to approach trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations that they have been avoiding since their trauma. By confronting these challenges in a gradual way with the help of a therapist, PTSD symptoms can decrease. PE typically lasts for 10–15 sessions.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): After trauma, people with PTSD often have trouble making sense of what happened to them. In EMDR, patients pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while calling to mind the upsetting memory until shifts occur in the way they experience that memory and more information from the past is processed. By processing these experiences, people can get relief from PTSD symptoms and change how they react to memories of their trauma. EMDR can take up to 12 sessions.


PTSD may be related to changes in the brain that are linked to our ability to manage stress. Compared with people who don’t have PTSD, people with PTSD appear to have different amounts of certain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) in the brain. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are types of antidepressant medication that are believed to treat PTSD by putting these brain chemicals back in balance. They do not work as well as trauma-focused psychotherapy, but they can be effective.

Four SSRIs/SNRIs are recommended for PTSD:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)

(Medications have two names: a brand name — for example, Zoloft — and a generic name — for example, sertraline.)

To receive medications for PTSD, patients need to meet with a provider who can prescribe the medications. Many different types of providers, including your family health care provider and some nurses and physician assistants, can prescribe SSRIs and SNRIs for PTSD. You and your provider can work together to determine which medication may be the most effective for you. Learn more about SSRIs and SNRIs and how they compare with psychotherapies.

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