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PTSD: History and Treatment

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Medically Reviewed Fact Checked

Last Updated on August 3, 2023 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD

ptsd treatmentThe history of PTSD treatment has ranged from lobotomies to drugs to ECT. The last few centuries have seen many ways to diagnose and treat mental health.

Research and integrative medicine have achieved great progress in finding new ways to combat this disorder as people are becoming aware of the true nature of this complex diagnosis.

To understand how to effectively treat post-traumatic disorder, let us understand the origins of the PTSD diagnosis.

Origins of PTSD

Over the last 200 years, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) were known by many different names. The symptoms, now referred to as PTSD, were diagnosed throughout American and world history using terms like:

  • Shell Shock” after all the bombing in WWI 4
  • “Gross Stress Reaction” (see DSM 1, 1952 version)
  • “Adjustment Reaction to Adult Life” or “Adjustment Disorder

While the terms may have changed, the symptoms have not. To investigate this condition and its symptoms, let’s journey through history.

The acronym for “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” is a diagnosis used to describe a certain set of symptoms that linger in the present after experiencing a trauma in the past. Anything from lingering dread after a car accident to residual fear post witnessing a horrific event may lead to a diagnosis of the condition.

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Examples of PTSD:

  • Residual effects from military combat experience.*
  • Experiencing natural disasters, such as earthquakes or tornadoes
  • Terrorist attack
  • Violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault or robbery
  • Serious accidents or witnessing a violent death
  • Prolonged sexual abuse, violence, or severe neglect
  • Receiving a diagnosis of a life-threatening condition

*A study on military veterans showed that up to 500,000 returning soldiers were diagnosed with PTSD from 2003 to 2016.

The diagnosis of PTSD has been used since 1980 to classify difficult symptoms presenting in an individual long term after a traumatic experience. PTSD is most well-known for causing extreme symptoms in those returning home from military service. While the diagnosis has become very common in today’s times, it is a relatively recent diagnostic term.1

To understand how PTSD came to be, we will take a look at the history of PTSD in the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual).

PTSD and the DSM From 1952 to 2019

The DSM is a manuscript used by professionals in the field of mental health. The DSM describes patient diagnoses based on existing symptoms. Created in 1952, the DSM has undergone many revisions and additions based on new research and discoveries in modern medicine. While PTSD was not added to the DSM until 1980 in version DSM-III, symptoms experienced by those suffering from the symptoms have been recorded for hundreds of years.


The DSM-I, developed by the American Psychiatric Association, was a tool assisting in the diagnosis of mental health disorders. PTSD was not listed in this early version. In the DSM-I, the term gross stress reaction was used for people who displayed symptoms after a traumatic event. Common traumatic events in these early days of the DSM included being a victim of a disaster or participating in a war. The gross stress reaction diagnosis, however, did not account for long-term symptoms of six months or more. The diagnosis was then removed from the following DSM version.


With the rollout of the DSM-II, a new term was created called adjustment reaction to adult life. This explained PTSD-like reactions from trauma caused by three types of events:

  1. Fear due to combat in the military,
  2. Suicidal thoughts with an unwanted pregnancy,
  3. Ganser’s Syndrome5 – Determined by incorrect responses to questions, in death sentence prison cases.

While this was a minor improvement over the explanation given in the DSM-1, the DSM-II fell short of offering an in-depth assessment of the symptoms lingering in many trauma victims. The common types of trauma and symptoms experienced post-trauma by victims were yet to be acknowledged.


The term was added to the DSM-III, linking traumas to wars suggesting it was a rare type of condition. Vietnam veterans, Holocaust survivors, sexual trauma victims, and others were included in the diagnostic population. After multiple revisions, the current DSM-V version suggests that the diagnosis is relatively common.


Now considered a broad range of conditions with multiple sub-categories of symptoms. No longer considered an anxiety disorder in the DSM-V. but listed under “Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders,” PTSD has been expanded to include multiple categories of symptoms.

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Genetics, Social Factors, and PTSD

Research out of France has found social context, as well as genetics, may be associated risk factors to consider in some persons who develop PTSD symptoms. Diet modification and counseling would be recommended avenues for treatment in such cases. 8

PTSD and Depression

Depression is commonly co-occurring in PTSD conditions and sometimes masks the traumatic part of the diagnosis. Other symptoms may also present, and these can be puzzling to a practitioner who is unfamiliar with treating the lingering effects of trauma. Simply taking an antidepressant is not likely to be the best treatment for PTSD.9,10

Symptoms That Warrant a Diagnosis

  1. Re-experiencing or reliving the traumatic event.
  2. Avoiding similar situations or triggers of the trauma.
  3. Having negative beliefs and feelings not present prior to a traumatic event.
  4. Hyper-reactive, overreacting, or being “keyed up.”

Some of the above symptoms are common in a person who has experienced trauma. However, if a person is displaying all four symptoms, a diagnosis of PTSD is likely to occur.

So, what is the best course of action for someone suffering from trauma-related symptoms?

Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The condition develops in an individual following a frightening or dangerous event. Over the days or weeks after the traumatic event, reactions to triggering sounds or circumstances begin to manifest. and if left untreated, can worsen and become extreme anxiety, fear, or depression. The first step in treating PTSD is in understanding the early warning signs. It is recommended to seek help for such symptoms early rather than later, according to research published in the French Journal Presse Med. Left untreated, the symptoms may become chronic and even lead to addiction and other negative outcomes.7

Early Recognition

Following a trauma, many individuals become trapped in the memory of the event. Being stuck in a sort of “fight or flight” behavioral pattern, physical and mental reactions will begin to develop. The reactions to present-time “triggers” and their resulting “fight or flight” type of reactions could continue over a prolonged period of time. Physical pain from injuries is another significant factor in addressing the whole person, and all the aspects of their suffering.2

Luckily, for those suffering, treatment has come a long way over the last 200 years, offering hope to many that suffer from the disorder.

The History of Post-Trauma Treatment

Historians, looking all the way back to the Civil War, have seen overwhelming signs in reports of the war, and soldiers’ letters to families. In the 1800s, mental health problems were shunned. Individuals with mental conditions were either left to their own devices or put quietly away in an asylum. For those experiencing trauma-related symptoms following the war, there was no real treatment available. Reports of soldiers returning home and losing their minds or becoming isolated were common.

Fortunately, after 200 years of research, victims of trauma can find effective help.

Drug-based Treatment vs Holistic Approaches

For decades, the standard treatment for the lingering effects of trauma would be a prescription of psychiatric medications. Depression was linked to trauma after-effects, leading to a surge of prescriptions of antidepressant drugs, and a surge of suicides as well.3

If an individual’s PTSD symptoms caused extreme paranoia, fear, or sleeplessness, institutionalization was another likely outcome. In some cases, ECT would be offered to wipe away the bad memories. Some would consider these types of harsh treatments to be as traumatic as the original event and would have preferred more compassionate, non-drug-based therapies for relief.

Is There a Cure?

For the last 40 years, there was really no cure offered, only treatments to mitigate the debilitating symptoms. Victims of traumas, natural disasters, war, or terrorist attacks would be told they need medications long term in order to fight off the more extreme flare-ups, almost as if it was a rash that needed to be kept in check. Only recently, have natural and holistic PTSD treatments been recognized as effective. Animal-assisted therapy has shown remarkable improvements in symptoms in veterans who participated in a trial that partnered them up with a companion dog.6 A very popular treatment segment that Alternative to Meds Centers offers is equine-assisted therapy as part of a client’s program.

A Natural Approach to Treatment

Many of those affected by “mental health disorders” find the commonly prescribed medication-based treatments hard to agree to. Whether an individual is sensitive to the pharmaceuticals, or just not wanting to become reliant upon them long-term, many people seek medication alternatives.

The Alternative to Meds Center philosophy is that most individuals given the proper support can recover from their unwanted conditions. The type of support we provide at Alternative to Meds is in the repair of a person’s brain chemistry through nutrition, supplementation, as well as talk therapy, and professional guidance surrounding the trauma.

ATMC offers one of the only programs in full neurotransmitter rehabilitation, known to help relieve issues including:
  • Lack of sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Medication side effects
  • Medication withdrawal

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How to Recover Natural Mental Health

holistic treatment of whole personEducation about nutrition, and how the body works helps patients understand how best to achieve and maintain optimal natural mental health. Individual counseling and therapy are important aspects as well, but without helping the whole body’s ecosystem, including the brain and central nervous system recover, long-term healing may be hard to achieve.

There is more to the human being than chemistry and brain cells. At ATMC, we incorporate long-term strategies into the individual’s lifestyle and health regimen. Rather than relying strictly on psychiatric medications and counseling, we treat the entire individual. Licensed, medical practitioners review each patient’s history for an in-depth look at a range of potential, underlying factors related to a person’s PTSD symptoms.

With a healthy diet designed to address deficiencies found in testing, nutrient-based therapies, neurotoxin removal treatments, CBT counseling, and many adjunctive treatments, and a welcoming, friendly social setting, ATMC provides an unparalleled, comprehensive, drug-free PTSD treatment program. Please feel free to call us for more information on this very important subject.


1. Reisman M, “PTSD Treatment for Veterans: What’s Working, What’s New, What’s Next.” Pharmacy and Therapeutics Journal 2016 Oct, PMID 27757001 [cited 2020 Dec 1]

2. Moeller-Bertram T, et al., “Pain and post-traumatic stress disorder – review of clinical and experimental evidence.” Neuropharmacology. 2012 Feb;62(2):586-97. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.04.028. Epub 2011 May 10. PMID: 21586297 [cited 2020 Dec 1]

3. Sher L.” The concept of post-traumatic mood disorder. Med Hypotheses.” 2005;65(2):205-10. DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2005.03.014. PMID: 15922089. [cited 2020 Dec 1]

4. Jones, E. “Shell Shocked” published in American Psychological Association Online, June 2012. Print version p.18 [cited 2020 Dec 1]

5. Dwyer J, Reid S, “Ganser’s syndrome.” The Lancet July 31 2004 [cited 2020 Dec 1]

6. HansenC, et al, Assistance dogs help reduce mental health symptoms among Australian Defence Force veterans… Journal of Psychiatric Research Volume 324  [published June 2023] [cited 2023 Aug 2]

7. Vaiva G, Lestavel P, Ducrocq F. Quand traiter le psychotraumatisme ? [When should psychological trauma be treated?]. Presse Med. 2008 May;37(5 Pt 2):894-901. French. doi: 10.1016/j.lpm.2008.01.018. Epub 2008 Mar 19. PMID: 18356014. [cited 2023 Aug 2]

8. Auxéméry Y. L’état de stress post-traumatique comme conséquence de l’interaction entre une susceptibilité génétique individuelle, un évènement traumatogène et un contexte social [Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of the interaction between an individual genetic susceptibility, a traumatogenic event and a social context]. Encephale. 2012 Oct;38(5):373-80. French. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2011.12.003. Epub 2012 Jan 24. PMID: 23062450.[cited 2023 Aug 2]

9. Ducrocq F, Vaiva G, Cottencin O, Molenda S, Bailly D. Etat de stress post-traumatique, dépression post-traumatique et épisode dépressif majeur: la littérature [Post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic depression and major depressive episode: literature]. Encephale. 2001 Mar-Apr;27(2):159-68. French. PMID: 11407268. [cited 2023 Aug 2]

10. Gros DF, Simms LJ, Acierno R. Specificity of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms: an investigation of comorbidity between posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and depression in treatment-seeking veterans. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2010 Dec;198(12):885-90. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181fe7410. PMID: 21135640. [cited 2023 Aug 2]

Originally Published Feb 14, 2019 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.


Dr. Michael Loes is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr. Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally, he is a well-published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response, and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

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