"Alternative" Treatments for PTSD?

Complementary and alternative medicine for PTSD lacks sufficient evidence for effectiveness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It certainly cannot hurt to meditate or practice relaxation therapy to try to deal with post traumatic stress syndrome. But is it an effective treatment method?

The answer is not yet clear. A recent report published by the VA has looked at the studies available on using complementary and alternative medicine for PTSD.

There is so little evidence, however, that they can't say whether it will or will not work. All they can say is that these therapies could offer value, so more research is needed.

"Seek treatment for PTSD."

The report was authored by Jennifer L. Strauss, PhD, the Women's Mental Health Program Manager in the Department of Veterans Affairs and a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, and Ariel J. Lang, PhD, MPH, the chief of the Psychotherapy Unit in the Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health within San Diego's VA system.

Strauss and Lang analyzed the evidence for complementary and alternative medicine treatments for PTSD.

Of the five main categories of these treatments as defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Strauss and Lang focused on three.

These included mind-body medicine (such as meditation, acupuncture or yoga), manipulative and body-based practices (such as massage or chiropractic care) and other alternative practices (such as "movement therapies" or "energy therapies").

The researchers did not analyze evidence related to the use of natural products (such as herbs and supplements) or to whole medicine systems, such as traditional Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine.

In searching for studies which analyze the effectiveness of complementary and alternative medicine, the researchers only found seven randomized, controlled trials that had been published up through 2010.

Most of the studies were fairly limited and often did not include enough information so they could be replicated, according to the researchers.

They also were not often designed well and/or did not include enough participants, such as one trial that had only eight participants and had no control group.

Six of the studies involved mind-body therapies but were still limited. When the researchers looked for additional studies of treatment for depression or anxiety, they still could not find much.

"Thus, the most striking finding overall was the relative lack of empirical evidence for complementary and alternative medicine for PTSD or related disorders," they wrote.

Therefore, they could not conclude whether different options within complementary and alternative medicine were effective or not in treating PTSD. There simply isn't evidence one way or the other.

"Indeed, they determined that, for most CAM therapies, the most basic question “Can it work?” for PTSD has not yet been answered," the report states.

The researchers cite that almost 40 percent of people with PTSD use different types of complementary or alternative medicine therapies to help with emotional or mental issues.

Therefore, the combination of people seeking these treatments and the lack of evidence for or against them means that more research should be done into these therapies.

The authors recommended that further research which looks at whether acupuncture, meditation, relaxation or other therapies are effective be conducted better.

"Preliminary findings, albeit mixed, suggest that complementary and alternative treatments merit consideration, Strauss and Lang wrote. "At this point, there is very limited empirical evidence of their effectiveness, so they may be best applied as an adjunct to other PTSD treatments or as a gateway to additional services for patients who initially refuse other approaches."

Overall, however, they concluded that research does not currently support using these therapies in place of others that have been established as effective evidence-based treatments for PTSD.

The report was published in the fall issue of PTSD Research Quarterly. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 28, 2012
Last Updated:
October 1, 2012