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What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Updated: May 24, 2020

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a trauma and stress related disorder. It’s a mental health condition that can impact both genders, all age groups, including children. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD are caused by experiencing a terrifying or traumatic event such as rape, domestic violence, abuse, natural disasters, war, accidents, or endangerment of life of oneself or loved ones.

For a lot of people, traumatic events trigger responses such as shock, fear, anger, guilt, and anxiety, which are natural reactions and dissipate over time. A person who has PTSD develops symptoms that are long lasting, do not fade, increase in intensity and can become overwhelming to control; they directly impact everyday activities including personal relationships and work.

The highest rates of PTSD are observed among sexual and physical assault survivors, military veterans who have witnessed combat, and survivors of genocide. There is also increased rates of PTSD among people who work in areas that expose them to traumatic events such as firefighters, medics, mental health professionals, and police officers. According to statistics from, an estimated one out of every 9 women develops PTSD.

The 3 benchmarks that explain the symptoms (from DSM 5):

1. Stressor:

The individual has experienced a traumatic life experience as a direct exposure to it, witnessing the trauma, learning of the trauma experienced by a close friend or family, or being indirectly exposed to trauma due to the nature of their job (first responders).

2. Intrusive Symptoms:

Individuals with PTSD report experiencing intrusive and unwanted symptoms, and not being able to control them. The symptoms may include nightmares, flashbacks, startle response, distressing images memories and thoughts, intense distress with reminders of the trauma, and intense psychological distress.

3. Avoidance:

Suffers of PTSD experience avoiding places, people, and activities that serve as reminders about the traumatic event, and in turn, this creates isolation; the person may also avoid talking about the event.

4. Alterations in Mood and Cognition:

There is also correlation to noticeable changes in mood, specifically with negative thoughts and feelings being worsened after the experience of the trauma. Some of these are: experiencing negative feelings and thoughts about oneself, feeling a sense of isolation, a decrease in pleasure able activities, blame and anger internally experienced or outwardly with others for having experienced trauma, difficulty with recalling aspects of the trauma, and an overall decrease in experiencing positive affect.

5. Alterations in Reactivity:

This relates to trauma arousal and reactivity, which can include an increased startle reaction, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, irritability, aggression, hypervigilance, and risky or destructive behavior.

A person experiencing PTSD experiences damaging effects on life. These can be managed by psychotherapy and medications. The longer PTSD goes untreated, the more damaging is its impact.

The most common effects of PTSD are:

Substance abuse

Difficulty feeling emotions

Eating disorders




Social phobia

Sleep problems

Inability to form/maintain stable relationships


Difficulty maintaining a steady job

Isolation and guilt

Suicidal thoughts and attempts

Treatment of PTSD:

Psychotherapy has been shown to be very effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with an emphasis on cognitively restructing can help with making sense of the memories. Exposure Therapy can help with gradually processing the trauma and exposing it in a safe way with the person. Both these psychotherapies help sufferers deal with shame, guilt, intrusive, and avoidance symptoms and help change how they react to trauma. They also promote utilizing coping strategies along with relaxation and anger management.

What can I do now about my trauma?

Start writing:

If there is one thing you can do right away right now, my recommendation would be to start writing. Writing is readily available, inexpensive, independent, and an easy way to disclose your deepest thoughts, to improve your mood. Writing about struggles, and traumatic experiences and especially about these subjects, has been shown to improve life functioning. In a classic study aging back to the late 80s conducted by Pennebaker and Glaser showcased writing promoting not only an improvement in mood, but also fewer illnesses. It turns out personal disclosure in safe setting confronting traumatic experiences such as writing was also noted as being physically beneficial when studies were performed with undergraduate students as well as followed up again with Holocaust survivors.

Talk to a mental health therapist:

If you or a loved one has experienced trauma, you don’t have to manage this on your own. Seeking help, and processing your feelings can have long lasting and profound effects on your health and relationships. Call 408 782 4736 or email:


“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).” DSM-5,

Pennebaker, J W, et al. “Disclosure of Traumas and Immune Function: Health Implications for Psychotherapy.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 1988,


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©2020 by Irem Choksy, LMFT

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