Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the psychological reaction to a severely stressful and physically threatening event that often results in anxiety, flashbacks, hypervigilance, depression, suicidal ideation, and other mental health concerns for an extended period of time. People who experience PTSD may continue to feel afraid or anxious even when no danger is present.
PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans, and in fact, it was first classified as a mental health condition as a result of the Vietnam Veterans Working Group. Prior to the 1970s, the phenomenon was casually referred to as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.”
Studies indicate that 3.5% of the U.S. population will experience PTSD in any given 12-month period, and almost 37% of these cases can be classified as “severe.” Although men are statistically more likely to experience traumatic events than women, women are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD than men, perhaps due to the fact that sexual assault leads to PTSD more frequently than do other forms of trauma, and women experience sexual assault at higher rates than men do.
Diagnosis & Symptoms
PTSD can develop from a variety of traumatic incidents, from natural disasters to sexual assault. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5), to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have experienced or witnessed a traumatic, physically threatening event or have learned that a traumatic event happened to a close friend or family member, and display specific symptoms for at least one month. Four types of symptoms are listed in the DSM-5:
Avoiding specific locations, sights, situations, and sounds that serve as reminders of the event
Anxiety, depression, numbness, or guilt
Intrusive thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks
Anger, irritability, and hypervigilance
Aggressive, reckless behavior, including self-harm
Negative Mood and Cognition Symptoms:
PTSD & Trauma Therapy
Psychotherapy is the most effective form of treatment for healing from the effects of trauma. Therapy or counseling can help people who have experienced trauma and those diagnosed with PTSD make sense of their experiences and feelings, develop plans to stay safe, learn healthy coping skills, and connect with other resources and support. A trained therapist can help people heal from trauma even long after the traumatic event took place, and unresolved trauma is one of the most common reasons people seek counseling or therapy.
The types of therapy that are most commonly used and recognized for their effectiveness in trauma treatment are cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Other forms of therapy that have been clinically tested include psychodynamic therapy, hypnotherapy, and exposure therapy. Adjunctive therapies may be used, such as group or logotherapy the goal of which is to heal through addressing the existential questions that arise in the aftermath of trauma and to discover meaning in life. In some cases, medications, such as anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood stabilizers, are employed to help manage the more challenging symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Resilience & Growth
Not every case of trauma results in PTSD, in fact, most do not. Factors for resilience from trauma may include:
Developing a coping strategy to process and learn from the event
Access to social support, whether through friends and family or a designated support group
Feeling self-assured with regards to one’s response to the threatening situation
The ability to react appropriately in the face of fear