PTSD: Can we cure or only treat?

PTSD is a huge and still-growing global mental health issue, but the detection, diagnosis, and therapy for PTSD remains a mixed bag. While vast improvements have been made in the past hundred years in antipsychotic drugs and evidence-based systems of talk therapy, there are others areas where the science still hasn't advanced very far. Getting people to seek out help in the first place remains a huge problem, and education for vulnerable groups and families is pretty much only self-driven. The medications we have can manage many of the most severe symptoms, but they do not cure the underlying issues. Most medications used for this purpose come with unwanted mental and physical side effects, especially with long-term use. Self-medication with alcohol or other drugs is still a massive and largely hidden problem as it has been all throughout history. Nothing is as well-researched as these mainstream talk therapies – various forms of individual and group analysis and counseling – and they have the most consistent level of success.

Today, we know that drugs are not enough. It was only after Vietnam, with more and better studies and increased social support for soldiers, rape victims, and other trauma survivors, that understanding and specifying PTSD in the modern way we think of it was finally possible. Over the last 40 years, several therapies have been refined into more effective tools for managing PTSD and supported by medications with fewer side effects. But still patients are still told going into therapy that to expect a “cure” is unrealistic. The goal now, set forth in most main-stream PTSD therapies, is for patients to get symptoms managed to a level where they are no longer interfering in life. Newer therapies, evidence-based and refined through 40 years of testing, are beginning to have some success in freeing patients from a need for ongoing life-time medication or therapy. That's the good news. The bad news is that the success rates of these intense therapies are not great, and drop-out rates from the programs are fairly high.

The history of PTSD, (like you'll find in our book!) shows us that we still have a long way to go in understanding, diagnosing, and treating this unique condition. Today's humans experience lower levels of violence than any other time in history, but warfare, abuse, death, and disasters continue to take their toll on those who live through them. Thankfully, understanding, support, and access to effective therapy from professionals is now available to nearly anyone in the developed world.