Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Two people in camouflage talking to a therapist

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

It is normal to have a negative reaction when we experience events that are highly stressful, scary or traumatic. However, people who develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have an abnormally difficult time coping for 4 weeks or longer after a traumatic event.

About 7.7 million Americans have PTSD, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). People can develop PTSD after one event that has a severe impact on their ability to cope, or trauma may build up over time through a series of events.

What does PTSD look like?

There are four categories of symptoms that classify PTSD:

  • Intrusive memories. These can include flashbacks, thoughts of the event and bad dreams.
  • Avoidance. This often involves avoiding the place the event happened or objects connected to the event. People may also feel depressed, guilty, anxious or numb when thinking about the event.
  • Dissociation. Like an out-of-body experience or thinking the world isn’t real (also called derealization).
  • Hypervigilance. This includes being jumpy or startled easily, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping and outbursts of anger.

How do I know if I have PTSD?

If you have noticed symptoms of PTSD following a stressful event, reach out to your doctor. They can determine your diagnosis and help you get connected to treatment options. Symptoms usually appear around 3 months after the event but can develop even years later. If you think something is wrong, it’s important to ask for help.

A PTSD treatment plan often includes medication combined with some form of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy techniques often used in a PTSD treatment plan include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to recognize negative thought patterns and replace them with positives. Ultimately, developing positive thought processes can lead to more positive behavior.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This technique uses alternating exposures to traumatic memories and stimuli, like specific eye movements, to process trauma.
  • Exposure therapy, which safely exposes people (in reality or virtually) to the situation which caused trauma in order to overcome avoidance or anxiety surrounding the event.