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What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD Overview

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (commonly referred to as PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder that is experienced as the result of a traumatic event or series of events.

Though military combat is the experience that is most commonly linked with PTSD, combat is far from the only event that can lead to PTSD. Adults, teenagers, adolescents, and children can develop PTSD after experiencing a wide range of traumatic events, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, accidents (such as car crashes), violent crime, natural disasters (such as tornadoes and hurricanes), acts of terrorism, and similar occurrences.

PTSD can affect individuals of all ages, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic groups. Some individuals who develop PTSD also struggle with other emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorders, while others had been free of these issues prior to the traumatic experience.

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PTSD can impact individuals who are directly involved in these traumatic experiences, as well as those who witness or respond to the events. For example, first responders such as emergency medical technicians, police officers, and firefighters may experience PTSD related to events that they have been called upon to deal with in the line of duty.  Also, witnesses of physical assaults, acts of terrorism, and serious accidents can also be traumatized to the point that they experience PTSD.

As is the case with all types of mental health, emotional, and behavioral disorders, PTSD is not a sign of weakness or a failure of character. It is a very real disorder – one that, thankfully, can be successfully treated with effective professional intervention and supervision.

Causes of PTSD

As is indicated in the previous section, PTSD is caused by experiencing, witnessing, or responding to a range of traumatic events.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD will vary from person to person. Though most symptoms of PTSD manifest within three months of the traumatic event, some PTSD symptoms not reveal themselves or become obvious until long after the traumatic event.

Some common signs and symptoms that may indicate PTSD or another form of unresolved emotional trauma include the following:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event (can last for minutes, hours, or even days)
  • Nightmares or night terrors related to the traumatic event
  • Obsessive unwanted thoughts or worries
  • Persistent feelings of anger or resentment
  • Little or no impulse control
  • Being easily startled, agitated, frightened, or terrified
  • Sense of emotional numbness and/or alienation from others
  • Difficulty planning, organizing, or making decisions
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, and remembering
  • Episodes of dissociation of “lost time”
  • Exaggerated startle responses, or hypersensitivity to noise or activity
  • Chronic fatigue, lethargy, and/or insomnia
  • Loss of a sense of meaning or purpose in life
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once the source of great pleasure
  • Persistent sense of hopelessness or despair
  • Low self-esteem and distorted body image
  • Desire to harm oneself
  • Inability to develop and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Intense fear of abandonment or loss

Treatment For PTSD

Determining the optimal course of treatment for an individual who is struggling with PTSD depends upon a range of factors, including the patient’s age, the nature of the PTSD, and the presence of co-occurring disorders.

Some PTSD sufferers may respond best to outpatient therapy (such as weekly sessions with a counselor or therapist), while others may be best served by residential care in a hospital or mental health program that is designed to help patients overcome PTSD.

Specific therapies and therapeutic activities will vary from person to person, but the following are among the many options that may be incorporated into a comprehensive PTSD treatment program:

  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Adventure therapy
  • Brain dynamics
  • Breathwork therapies
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Equine therapy
  • Experiential therapies
  • Expressive arts therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Family systems work
  • Massage therapy
  • Psychodrama
  • Recreation therapy
  • Somatic therapies