After you experience a dangerous or scary event, it's normal to feel distress and fear. Usually, these feelings go away in the days or weeks after the event. Sometimes, though, they last months or more, interfering with daily life and relationships. This kind of long-lasting response is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD often happens after violent experiences (such as military combat and sexual assault) or life-threatening accidents. It can also happen after the unexpected death of a loved one.
Signs of PTSD usually appear in the months right after a traumatic event. But they can show up at any point, sometimes even years later. Seek help if you experience any of the following symptoms for a month or longer:
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Trouble concentrating
- Unwanted memories, flashbacks or nightmares
- Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Avoidance of situations that remind you of the event
- Avoidance of loved ones or thoughts that they would be better off without you
How to Get Help for PTSD at Rush
- If you're a veteran or a veteran's family member: Make an appointment with Rush's Road Home Program, which specializes in treating veterans and their loved ones. (Loved ones include anyone a veteran considers family, even if you're not legally related.) The program offers comprehensive treatment for PTSD, regardless of your ability to pay.
- If you're a survivor of trauma related to sex, pregnancy or childbirth: Make an appointment with Rush's women's behavioral and mental health care team. Psychologists and psychiatrists on the team are specially trained to treat sexual and reproductive stress and trauma. This can include sexual assault, miscarriage, stillbirth and other events. The team welcomes cisgender, transgender and nonbinary patients.
- In all other cases: Call (312) 942-5375 to make an appointment with a mental health provider specializing in PTSD. We can help determine whether you should see a psychologist (for psychotherapy), a psychiatrist (who can prescribe medications) or both.
If your insurance requires it, you may need a referral from a primary care doctor.
PTSD Treatment at Rush
PTSD usually gets better with psychotherapy, medications or both. At Rush, we offer the following:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely used form of psychotherapy (talk therapy). It's also the best-studied. Research has shown that it's an effective treatment for PTSD.
CBT is based on the idea that your behavior, thoughts and feelings are closely connected. So your therapist may suggest ways to change your feelings or behavior by changing your thought patterns, or vice versa.
Psychologists and social workers at Rush offer several different types of CBT to treat the specific needs of PTSD patients:
- Cognitive processing therapy, which is designed to help people process trauma. It focuses on helping you see traumas in a different way so that they don't negatively affect your life.
- Prolonged exposure therapy, which is designed to help people face and move on from past traumatic events. It's based on the idea that avoiding thoughts or conversations about trauma reinforces fear.
Dialectical behavior therapy, which helps people balance the need to accept some things with the need to change others. In DBT, you'll learn strategies for both accepting and changing unwanted thoughts and feelings. You'll also learn strategies for managing relationships and conflict with other people. DBT sessions can be completed with an individual therapist or a DBT-based skills group.
The right medication for you depends on your symptoms and body chemistry. Psychiatrists at Rush can help you find the medications and dosages that work for you. These usually include one or more of the following:
- Anti-anxiety medications, which reduce feelings of anxiety and stress
- Antidepressants, which help with depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping and concentrating
- Antipsychotics, which can relieve severe anxiety, sleep disturbances and emotional outbursts
- Prazosin, a medication that reduces nightmares and improves sleep
Rush Excellence in PTSD Care
- Experts in veterans' care: Rush is the only academic health system in Illinois to offer a program exclusively dedicated to veterans' mental health. The Road Home Program offers expert PTSD care for veterans and veterans' loved ones, regardless of ability to pay.
- Proven results: The Road Home Program offers an intensive outpatient program for veterans with PTSD. At the end of the program, 76% of participants have significantly fewer PTSD symptoms. For 50% of patients, symptoms decrease so much that their condition no longer meets the official definition of PTSD.
- Experts in sexual and reproductive trauma: If your PTSD is related to sex, pregnancy, childbirth or infertility, you're not alone. The Rush women's behavioral and mental health care team specializes in helping people work through traumatic sexual and reproductive experiences. The team welcomes cisgender, transgender and nonbinary patients.
- Therapeutic approaches designed for PTSD: The National Institute of Mental Health stresses that it's "important for anyone with PTSD to be treated by a mental health provider who is experienced with PTSD." That's what you'll find at Rush. Rush psychologists and social workers, for example, have expertise in psychotherapy techniques specifically designed for people with PTSD.