What Works for PTSD

For the interactive version click here.

By Alexandra Carmichael, Co-Founder of CureTogether

Some of the most popular treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are not necessarily the most effective, according to a new study by CureTogether, a free resource owned by 23andMe that allows people to share information about their health and treatments.

People in the study said they found some treatments without drugs — including art therapy and exercise — were the most effective. Conversely some popular treatments such as the use of antidepressants, were among the least effective, according to the study.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is often associated with combat veterans, but the disorder can occur in anyone who has experienced or seen a traumatic event. Finding the right treatment can be particularly difficult, so CureTogether asked people suffering from PTSD to rate the effectiveness of different treatments.

Rated Most Effective by People with PTSD
1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy
2. Avoid certain places
3. Avoid certain noises
4. Art therapy
5. Exercise
6. Use clear shower curtain
7. Psychotherapy
8. Medical marijuana
9. Anti-anxiety medication
10. Daily routine

CureTogether’s study compiled responses from 531 people with PTSD, who rated the effectiveness of 31 different treatments.

Among the most helpful treatments were Cognitive Behavior Therapy, avoiding places and noises that trigger symptoms, art therapy, and exercise. Also highly effective for those in the study were having a daily routine and participating in support groups. Also on the list was the use of a clear shower curtain, which addresses the fear some have of hidden threats. In contrast people in the study said anti-depressants and Exposure Therapy were not as effective.

Where did this data come from? This is the result of a four-year CureTogether study on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We’d like to thank those who participated. And just as they shared their experience with PTSD treatments, we’re freely and openly sharing the results of the PTSD study.

This is part of a regular series of CureTogether research findings. CureTogether’s research findings are different than those made by 23andMe, which look at genetic associations with illness, traits and drug response. But as we continue our work with the CureTogether community, 23andMe hopes to incorporate more of this kind of self-reported information into our own research. CureTogether present its findings just as they are – patient-reported data – to stimulate discussion and generate new insights for further research.

Please tweet, blog, or pass this along to anyone who can benefit or is interested in PTSD. Thank you!

  • Josh
    • N

      Some doctors also are using ketamine. I myself would be terrified to try that, or ecstasy.

  • I have little doubt that ecstasy would help. But what about EMDR? I’m wondering why that wasn’t even mentioned. I had PTSD for over 50 years…EMDR REALLY helped!


    • I had to wonder about that because it helped me also. It seems like an odd omission. The only thing that I can come up with is that maybe EMDR isn’t mainstream enough?

    • Annie

      Same here, EMDR with positive results!

      • Brit

        Look at the diagram. It was part of the study, just didn’t make the top 10.

      • al

        I think EMDR is very effective too. In my case it was considered to be a component of Cognitive Therapy. I wonder if others had EMDR as a component of CT not knowing it’s a treatment in its own right. I sought out EMDR after seeing several Doctors, because I still felt there must be something else that would help me feel better, even though Doctors said they had really done everything they could do for me. The ability to visualize my trauma as an outside observer helped me deal with the trauma in a more neutral way, instead of just re-hashing the bad events over and over, or eradicating all my emotions with drug therapy. The Cognitive Therapy FOLLOWING the EMDR was the best. I know PTSD will be with me probably the rest of my life, but I can consciously control how and when I want to discuss it and the trauma itself. HUGE difference!

  • dan k

    I was diagnosed ptsd moderate to severe.. I was treated through cognative treatment, shock treatment and many,many drugs fun fun!

  • Neil K

    I was diagnosed PTSD moderate to severe.. I am being treated by a psychologist with over 20 years experience with this problem. No drugs have been used. My doctor feels they tend to hid the symptoms. I have been given a number of mind exercises to help control the PTSD and not have it control me. My progress has been remarkable. Thank you Lord.

    • nelson wheatley

      I was diagnosed with PTSD severe I am being treated without the use of a lot of drugs but mainly one on one with my psychologist he has worked with me with mind control exercises which have helped me tone down the nightmares and flashbacks its slow but it seems to be working god bless

    • Theresa Rodina Caraway

      Bless you April…I have been diagnosed with PTSD…and use to have to stay high all the time…Been free of that for years..at times a temptation..but I just run to the “Shelter of the MOST HIGH”….Thank you Father,Son, and Holy Spirit!

  • Kathleen Keane

    I loved this article and posted it to my Facebook. I think the idea of letting people who have faced and disease and have worked past it with or without medications getting a chance to share what actually worked for them is a super idea. Great writing and interesting research. This is my favorite site because of this type of real information – not information from a drug company or one person — but – real stuff. Thank you very much.

  • Laurina

    I was triggered yesterday by some ass who gave me a lot of forms to fill out for a DUII class Im trying to get into for a court obligation from 7yrs ago. They went WAY over the boundaries and ask some pretty invasive questions that had NOTHING to do with my case. It hit a trigger and sent me over the edge. Had a night terror and found myself rocking in my shower last night. I got a doc appt. (new doc) today and when I got there she listened very carefully, is very nice and then asked me if I believed in God. Im a more spiritual person and that is what I told her. She then gave me scriptures to read. I felt that was, on one hand, very kind of her, but I also thought if that was the avenue I wanted to take I wouldn’t have paid my co pay to see her I would have went to the church up the street from my house. I thought she crossed a boundary. I didn’t got see a doc to get a preacher. Then she suggested I come back tomorrow and see another person in her office for what they call Emotional Freedom Technique. I guess you tap you face while talking about your trauma or something like that. Does anyone know about this technique??? It sounds bizarre to me and Im not so sure Im ready for that. I don’t want to pay another co pay just to have some lady ask me questions while I tap my face and answer her. WTF?????

    • WTF?EFT? EFT hs been around for a long time and I have been treated with it for bipolar disorder. It’s been a great help to me. It does involve tapping with your fingertips on certain places on your body while repeating what the therapist says. Don’t know why it works any more than does talk therapy but it worked for me several years ago. At least gve it a try, possibly better than reading Scriptures,eh? Look up EFT on Google and find the first good looking website,You sould be able to find some good info. The best therapist is th best healer. Good luck. I hope everything works out for you. Much love sent you way. pj

  • There have been studies that show positive results from therapies such as Reiki in the treatment of PTSD. Through light touch this therapy allows your body to come to a more balanced state through relaxation. It is totally non-invasive and complements medical treatments which is why it is used throughout the army for the treatment of various conditions.

    • John H Earley Jr

      Sandra….wouldnt that be Body Reflexogoly…I mean thats what im hearing anyway….i’ve been doing that same thing…it relaxes me…and it will take all Pain if you have any…and makes you feel you have things to do…and right away…sometime it takes 45 minutes but it works really good….

  • I am curious as too how one avoids places and noises do you recommend they “Isolate”, you would have to remove yourself from life so that is not going to happen, overall therapy, in it’s various forms are the best way for a Veteran to deal with his trauma running is not an option. life will go on with us or without us. We Vets need to find that place that makes us “whole” enough to enjoy living again

    • Dennis Spohn

      Jose, Do you have PTSD? Well I have had it since 1972 only diagnosed by VA in 2008. I have often removed myself from situations that made me uncomfortable. Trying to remain in this situation Is not conducive to healing. Hey I was an 101st Abn Div Jump qualified grunt so don’t tell me to be man enough to stick it out under those conditions.

      • N

        Thank you, Dennis. Avoiding situations and places is not “removing yourself from life,” as Jose says with such condescension. So, Jose: If you had been in a horrific car wreck, would you recommend hanging out at the scene where it happened every year, just to see if we could “take it”? That’s not “isolation”; that is avoiding pain (not “avoidance” but willful removal).

    • Amanda

      I did ALOT of running as a teenager with PTSD. I live close to a national forests and accidently found 2 vietnam folks who lived out there as well. We never spoke. After college (and the obvious PTSD symptoms started appearing) Mental Health finally started taking me seriously. To smoke weed in Alabama that will get you prison or rehab. The antidepressants rarely work. I want to enjoy living again. However after being arrested numerous times (one for marijuana possession) both myself and my family are afraid I am going to wind up just living out in the National Forests b/c reality and society have become no less complicated simply b/c I finally got a diagnosis. I am a civilian but in America we civilians witness our fair share of violence on a daily basis. My mom knows how much I hate jail and the thought of having a violent PTSD attack scares me so bad running is always in the back of my mind.

  • Bob

    For me, the jury is out on EMDR. I could do it with the earphones, but the visual method was too intense and I couldn’t continue.
    Avoidance is my primal coping mechanism, but isn’t always possible and I end up feeling like all the medication and therapy was rendered null and void.
    Zoloft and medical Cannabis as an adjunct to therapy has provided a modicum of relief. There are still days when coping is near impossible, however. I wouldn’t wish PTSD on my worst enemy. Problem is, having it makes ME my own worst enemy.

    • Maddy

      I did EMDR with the headphones too….much better. It’s funny that you mention weed, I have been known to enjoy a puff here and there and what I’ve been noticing lately is that I actually become more aware of different ways I think and feel like I can figure out things a lot better, so I agree with you on that one :)

  • Here are some other potential approaches that have been found to be helpful with those challenged with PTSD. Brainspotting, Emotional Freedom Technique and Somatic Experiencing. For those individuals that can not tolerate EMDR, Brainspotting might be a helpful alternative as the practitioner can turn the intensity of the emotions down during processing.

  • Do you have a form you use to track progress of those wanting to be in your study that we could use? We are working to open gyms free for Veterans and this study of the effects of exercise on PTSD would be something we would like to incorporate in our programs.

  • WOW- i see nothing on here about EPR Technology- an evidence-based neuroscience focused on The Breath. It comes from a 10K old medical system- in fact, the symbol for it was adopted by Western medicine just 100 yrs. ago- which is a road map of how to use human consciousness on all levels, when understood and followed. VERY accelerated, comprehensive, easy and enjoyable, as well! I have been in this field of medicine for 30 yrs, have internationally published research on this technology. Our clients purify and release huge amounts of negative emotion, on just one session. This innovative and ancient approach reaches the root of the issue. Very rewarding to practice and share with our clients. ~*~

  • Allen Penrod

    The most effective treatment I’ve found, even more effective than EMDR, is a mental technique called Transcendental Meditation. All of the people I know who have used it have had their symptoms completely disappear over the course of a few months. Here’s a link to an article about that: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/u-marines-overcome-ptsd-transcendental-040000498.html

  • Irish-7

    I see that anti-anxiety medication is ninth on the list of treatments. Makes me wonder why the VA pushes the drugs so hard! I won’t take any pills. READ THE SIDE EFFECTS BEFORE YOU AGREE TO THE MEDICATION! I believe this is a backdoor, deceptive attempt to disarm veterans. The VA has already sent letters to PTSD patients and told them that they can no longer handle firearms. Only a judge can declare a person Incompetent, and that is precluded by a hearing where the accused can present evidence on their behalf. Funny, I did not see church listed with the therapies. JESUS SAVES! Well, got to go change my shower curtain.

  • Melanie

    I have PTSD that can be disabling at times. Last year I went on a search for a new therapist with a specialty in trauma – I was in trouble. After a few trials with bad therapists, I found one who was comfortable with my having a “dark side, ” and we did a bit with EMDR. I think it opened me to the possibility of recovery. Work became wacky (aggressive, unstable co-worker). As work had been my safe place, it was rough. I started on sertraline, but then my therapist was promoted away from clinical work. I found a psychiatrist to refill the med, as I thought it helped. The psychiatrist coded me (CPT codes) for a primary diagnosis of dementia! Be very careful – some of our experiences may seem unreal to inexperienced caregivers. I weaned off the med, and am using exercise, prayer, and attending religious services. It seems to help – certainly better that the alternative. Do not allow yourself to be victimized by inappropriate caregivers – remember they have problems, too.

  • I have talked with several dozen people who have PTSD. Most of them tell me they feel a sense of disconnection. I believe there are two fundamental principles that explain almost everything: existence and connection. That which is, exists. It derives its meaning from its connections. This works from the level of subatomic particles to the universe as a whole. For sentient beings, connection is their primary spiritual need. Through connection, they seek to discover meaning. PTSD is a spiritual disorder.

    Most of the PTSD people I have talked with who were prescribed drugs (including medical marijuana), mostly war veterans, tell me that the drugs only dull the pain they feel to the point that they are not motivated to address the pain. I have spoken with veterans who have been on prescription drugs for as long as 40 years.

    I also spent some time with a Dine’ medicine man who treats PTSD ceremonially, using spiritual interventions, and who has enjoyed some success. Among the techniques this study found effective were art therapy and support groups. Both of those have spiritual components. The challenge is, what other potential interventions are there that offer a spiritual remedy? My thinking is leaning towards a program with peer support. Use a retreat setting that incorporates shamanic-style ritual, and creates peer triads who, in this experience, bond together and pledge to support one another. Recruit facilitators of the retreat from among those who benefit from the process.

    • N

      Kent, glad to hear you have “talked with several people who have PTSD.” Unless you yourself have it, your conjecture is both unwelcome and just that: conjecture. Don’t try to tell us what “works” unless you have lived in our bodies.

  • David H

    I am going through PTSD therapy now, and want to do it without meds if possible. My psychologists/psych think that is good because the drugs are only supposed to be temporary to get us to a point where we develop coping skills to replacewhat the drugs do anyway. If someone is taking drugs for the long haul, then there isnt really progress being made, only artificial suppression of symptoms. Its difficult, but evrytime I have an episode, I learn from it, and with the help of the therapy staff, I think I will continueto make better progress tha thosewho are relying on the meds.

  • Susee

    I’ve been told to write detailed notes about each episode … but there are so many! 4 car crashes (one my fault) … court claim from car crash with some atrocious conversations and implications of fraud … and other … When I trigger it doesn’t feel good one little bit and with so many traumas never know where it’s going to come from … *sigh* I’m ok …

  • Hopeful

    Bergamot oil is helping me stay emotionally even-keeled at work–a few drops over my heart before leaving for work

  • Randy Tardiff

    Do any of you know about a new treatment called “Orientation to pleasure”? It’s a new ground breaking P.T.S.D. therapy.

Return to top