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Although post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cannot usually be diagnosed until 4 weeks after a traumatic event, the  symptoms that occur before the end of the 4 week period often become persistent.

Arieh Shalev,M.D., Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and founding Director of the Center for Traumatic Stress at Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, wanted to know which form of treatment was most effective during the 4 week period following the initial traumatic event.

Patients were treated with one of 5 available treatments over a 12 week period. 1) Cognitive therapy, which helps people change unproductive, or harmful, thought patterns. 2) Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps desensitize patients’ upsetting reactions to traumatic memories. 3) An antidepressant—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor—known to be helpful in treating chronic PTSD. 4) A placebo. 5) No intervention at all.

The results were that both cognitive therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy worked well on these patients and demonstrated significantly less severe symptoms than in patients who were treated with medication, placebo, or no treatment at all. Antidepressants did not work during this early post-trauma period, but the researchers believe that it is important to continue exploration of pharmacological interventions for early treatment of PTSD.

Researchers suggest that both pharmacotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can be partially effective for PTSD when given 3 months or more after a traumatic event. It is important for PTSD survivors to know recovery is still possible even if treatment is not received immediately, but the results of the study suggest that it is best for survivors to be treated as early as possible.