What is the Future of PTSD Treatment?

Could there be one basic therapy for PTSD? With the vast range of treatment options available now for PTSD, the obvious question is which one or ones are most effective? Combinations of talk therapy and some sort of relaxation technique (guided imagery, meditation, etc) are very popular and have success rates significantly better than either therapy alone. Guided imagery, for example, is a component in about 25% of patients' treatment in VA hospitals. This argues that some form, or several forms, of success-boosting alternative treatments should be combined with the current “gold standard” psychotherapy treatments to form a new standard of care based on program success.

As the ways scientists can measure and track the chemical and electrical signals of the brain become more refined, new horizons are opening up for machines to give us useful live feedback not just in the laboratory, but in the therapist's office too. Along with these science- and technology-driven innovations, sufferers of PTSD have been looking to the past for answers as well. Breathing, relaxation, yoga, marital arts, and spiritual practices that are hundreds or thousands of years old are all becoming increasingly popular. As these two very different sides influence and inform the current best practice therapies, we are already seeing the emergence of highly successful therapies combining standard psychotherapy, relaxation/spiritual/alternative therapy, brain response/scanning, and occasionally drugs. These sorts of fusion therapies exist in some forms already, usually under the name-brand of a doctor or center, and many claim surprising cure rates using some cocktail of fractions of existing therapies and a healthy dose of their own ideas. The plus side is that there is currently a huge amount of competition and innovation in this area, the minus side is that this means studies are few and often not well performed or funded for most of these proprietary methods. Science doesn't like multiple variables, and combination therapies are notoriously hard to gather the sort of good clean data on that scientists want.

The treatment of PTSD has evolved rapidly since it began in earnest after World War I. Variously therapies, drugs, and practices or exercises have been adopted, modified, combined, or discarded in a rapid way over the last 100 years. PTSD is nothing if not complex, and it has been one of the most difficult and mysterious mental conditions to study, gather data on, and treat successfully. While most of the world hasn't come very far in eradicating the root causes of PTSD, our understanding of the functioning of the body, personality, and brain has vastly improved the treatment of PTSD and many other mental conditions. Some numbers have started to look very good with regards to PTSD, others are still pretty scary and are real problems to be solved. The length and expense of traditional therapies (and their high dropout rate), poor early detection and screening, over-medication, and the generally unimpressive success rate of current PTSD drugs are all areas for improvement and innovations. This and a lot more are being developed and studied constantly in hospitals, universities, and private clinics around the world.

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