Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

A Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop in response to a traumatic event when a person has experienced or witnessed an actual or threatened death or serious injury or any other threat to the physical integrity of one self or others, and responded with intense fear, helplessness or horror.

Symptoms (present for over a month)

Re-experiencing the traumatic event persistently (e.g., through “flashbacks”, nightmares, in response to stimuli associated with the trauma).

Exposure to stimuli associated with the trauma triggers psychological distress and/or physiological reactivity.

Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma (e.g., efforts to avoid thinking or talking about the trauma, to avoid places, people or activities that elicit memories of the trauma, feeling detached or numb to pleasant feelings).

Increased arousal (different from before the trauma)
Difficulty falling of staying asleep
Irritability or outbursts of anger
Difficulty concentrating
Exaggerated startle response


About 8% of the population will suffer from a Post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) at some point in their life. Common traumatic experiences include sexual assault, physical attack, robbery and mugging, and car accidents, amongst others.


Changing thoughts:

People who have experienced a traumatic event often develop the belief that the world is a dangerous place and that they are not safe.

They may also believe that they are unlucky (things happen to them) and adopt thinking patterns that make them continue to feel like a victim.

These thinking patterns are changed with cognitive re-structuring techniques. In addition, the treatment involves exposure to the thoughts and memories associated with the trauma so that the PTSD sufferer becomes desensitized to these and can view their experience in a new light.

Changing behaviors:

As is the case with every anxiety disorder, avoidance maintains fear.

Frequently, after a traumatic experience, people avoid any situation that resembles in some way to that in which the traumatic experience occurred. For instance, the victim of a bank robbery may avoid going to the bank or other large institutions, or a rape victim may avoid intimacy.

These perfectly understandable but unhelpful behaviors are changed through cognitive re-structuring (as above) and guided exposure.

Selected Book References

The PTSD Workbook.
Mary Beth Williams & Soili Poijula (2002).
New Harbinger Publications. ISBN 1-57224-282-5

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook.

Glenn Schiraldi (2000).
McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-7373-0265-8