We represent dozens of police officers, firefighters and other first responders who have developed PTSD due to work-related traumatic exposures. PTSD is a serious, sometimes debilitating disorder, that can wreak havoc on a person’s family, social and work life. Fortunately, things can get better with time and treatment. The “best” type of treatment for PTSD varies from person to person and can be used individually or in combination with other treatment modalities.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that is commonly used in the treatment of PTSD symptoms. CPT is a 12-session psychotherapy for PTSD that teaches you how to change the upsetting thoughts you have had since your trauma. The idea is that if you can change and evaluate your thoughts, you can change how you feel.
The first step is to discuss your traumatic event(s) with your therapist and how your thoughts related to the event have affected your life. Specifically, you are provided with worksheets that delve into how the trauma affects your beliefs about yourself, others and the world. Typically, you are asked to write in detail about what happened during your traumatic event(s). This process helps you examine how you think about your traumatic event(s) and figure out how to cope.
For example, you may believe that you are at fault or to blame for the traumatic event(s). This is a common thought process in those with PTSD. Your therapist will help you evaluate all the things that were outside of your control with the goal of moving forward and accepting that the traumatic event was not your fault, despite what you did or did not do.
This type of therapy is considered particularly beneficial to those people who anticipate encountering additional traumatic events—such as police officers, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, nurses, or members of the armed forces. These vocations regularly place people in traumatic situations and CPT may be able to help alter the way first responders interpret and process trauma, making it easier to continue with their chosen field of work.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET)
Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) is a form of psychotherapy for PTSD that is frequently used in the VA system. PET is considered appropriate for people who have unwanted thoughts, nightmares, hypervigilance and feelings of hopelessness. If you experience these symptoms, you understandably want to avoid thoughts, feelings and things that remind you of your traumatic event(s). The goal of PET is to help you reengage with life and confront the things you have been avoiding.
This type of treatment has been considered intense by many of my clients who have gone through it. The sessions are one-on-one with a clinician, last about 90 minutes per session, and typically are prescribed for three months or more. The clinician will ask you to discuss your traumatic events. The clinician may also have you write down your traumatic experience and read it aloud in the session while you explore your thoughts and feelings. Another common practice in PET is to write a list of all the things you have been avoiding (e.g., smells, sounds, places, etc.), and rank each item based upon how much distress they cause you when you encounter them.
The idea behind this modality is to break the link between the trauma and the items that cause you distress. When a traumatic event occurs, your brain associates things in your environment (e.g. sights, sounds, smells) with this trauma. In PET, you are forced to confront these things over and over again outside of your traumatic event(s). This exposure, over time, reprograms your brain to no longer expect danger when confronting these things.
Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization Therapy (EMDR) is a nontraditional psychotherapy focused on the emotions and symptoms that result from the traumatic event. The goal of EMDR is to process past traumatic events and the emotions attached to those events. EMDR does not require you to go through your traumatic experiences with your clinician. Instead, you concentrate on an event while you watch something your clinician is doing, such as moving a hand, finger or a light back and forth rapidly. You follow this movement with your eyes. The idea is that your swift eye movements loosen the knots in your memory to loosen and allow negative thoughts and memories to be reprocessed in a favorable manner.
In most cases, EMDR requires about three months of sessions to be effective. There is some controversy surrounding the efficacy of EMDR; however, you will typically know after one session whether this type of treatment will work for you.
Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
Accelerated Resolution Therapy is a type of psychotherapy that is not as well-known or researched as the other modalities on this list but shares man of the same characteristics of EMDR. The goal of ART is to reprogram the way distressing memories and images associated with traumatic events are stored in the brain so that they no longer trigger strong emotional and physical reactions. A clinician will have you visualize a traumatic event and perform specific eye movements. With this type of therapy, you do not have to discuss your trauma or difficult life experiences with a therapy to achieve recovery. This type of therapy can provide positive results more rapidly than many other modalities—typically within one to five sessions.
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)
Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the treatment of PTSD. This is a type of psychotherapy that is geared to help you recognize and change negative thoughts that are influencing your behavior. This type of therapy can be done individually or in a group setting. Typically, you will not have to go into detail about your traumatic experiences. The focus instead is how to manage the stress that the event has caused through the use of coping skills. Coping skills include deep breathing from your diaphragm, muscle relaxation training, role-playing, and learning how to talk to yourself positively.
In conjunction with the treatment modalities discussed above, many people with PTSD also take medication to help manage their psychological symptoms. The FDA has approved only paroxetine and sertraline for treating PTSD but there are many other medications out there that have been deemed effective in the treatment of PTSD. These may include:
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Antipsychotics or second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs)
All of the treatment discussed here have been found to be effective in the treatment of PTSD. The “right” treatment will vary from person to person and what he or she is comfortable with. No matter what type of treatment is most effective for you, there is one change that seems to be effective in helping to relieve the PTSD symptoms in my first responder cases—getting out of the profession. Once first responders stop working, they are no longer exposed to the constant triggers of their jobs. This allows them time to heal, get professional help and move forward with happy, productive lives.
If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD due to a work-related accident or traumatic incident, you should consult with an experienced attorney in this area of the law. At Meuser Law Office, P.A., we have represented many clients with PTSD, including police officers, firefighters, first responders and correctional officers. We understand this nuanced area of the law and work with our client to ensure you received the full benefits to which you are entitled. Contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a no-obligation consultation today. Call us today at 1-877-746-5680.