New Research Could Improve Treatments for PTSD

Sweeping new studies shed light on the underlying mechanisms of posttraumatic stress disorder

Michele DeMarco, PhD
Published in
4 min readJun 11, 2021


Guy sitting on a rock in an ocean cove looking out over the sun setting.
Image: Keegan Houser/Unsplash

June is PTSD awareness month. Thanks to the arduous work of researchers, advocates, survivors, and psychological and medical professionals over the years, the acronym for posttraumatic stress disorder is now common parlance.

The effects of PTSD are also more widely known:

  • About 8 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year.
  • 3.5 percent of U.S. adults are diagnosed every year with PTSD.
  • An estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.
  • 20 percent of people in the U.S. who experience a traumatic event will develop PTSD.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD.
  • An estimated 354 million adult war survivors globally have PTSD and/or major depression.
  • 13.5% of deployed and non-deployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD, while other studies show the rate to be as high as 20% to 30%.
  • Three ethnic groups — U.S. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians — are disproportionately affected and have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.

What hasn’t been clear among researchers and clinicians is the optimal treatment approach for PTSD. Some are in favor of medication, such as antidepressants, while others prefer psychotherapy. Even among professionals who use a combination of the two approaches, there is still disagreement about which form of psychotherapy is best. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are currently the first-line choices. But there is also disagreement of the order in which to try them.

What hasn’t been clear among researchers and clinicians is the optimal treatment approach for PTSD.

For anxiety — one of the prime symptoms of PTSD — research generally shows that psychotherapy is more effective than medication, and that adding medication doesn’t significantly improve outcomes…



Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t.