Psychological Services Center

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

When a person experiences, witnesses, or is confronted with an event (or series of events) that involve actual or threatened physical harm, injury, or death, such as a serious accident, natural disaster, assault, or exposure to wartime combat, he or she may respond with intense fear, helplessness, or horror. These responses to such traumas and other related symptoms may occur in immediate response to the trauma and can continue, even when the person is no longer in danger, or they may have a delayed onset. In some cases, years can pass before symptoms are triggered by the anniversary of the initial trauma, or the occurrence of another trauma.

Some stressors commonly associated with PTSD include threatened death or serious injury; learning about the death, near death, or serious injury of a family member or close friend; and witnessing the death, near death, or serious injury of another person.

Common PTSD Symptoms

  • Intrusive thoughts and recollections of the traumatic event
  • Recurrent dreams of the trauma
  • Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring, including illusions, hallucinations, and a sense of reliving the experience
  • Intense physiological distress or reactivity at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event
  • Symptoms of increased arousal, such as an exaggerated startle response, or feelings of anxiety, hypervigilence, irritability, anger, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Feelings of numbness and/or detachment
  • Avoidance of people, situations, and images associated with the trauma

What types of treatment are available?

Here are the main treatment options usually considered for PTSD:

  • Medication. Many people who have PTSD benefit from medications. However, some medica­tions can have side effects and cannot be used by certain people, different people respond differently to different medications, and not all people who can take medications benefit from them. Therefore, making the decision to try medications and deciding which one to try should be done under the care of a physician or psychiatrist.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. There are three empirically validated treatments for PTSD that seem to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD. All involve reprocessing the traumatic event and thus involve a substantial exposure component. Reprocessing the trauma can involve using imagery or writing to face the traumatic event, and a cognitive restructuring component to change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with the traumatic memories.
  • Other Psychological Therapies. There are many different types of psychological therapies, such as Interpersonal, Family, and Supportive. Many of these therapies were not developed specifically for anxiety disorders, but for other reasons (such as reducing depression, improving relationships or for personal growth). Although these other therapies are generally not helpful for the base anxiety, they may be useful for reaching other goals (such as reducing depression or improving relationships), which may ultimately help maintain gains in anxiety treatment. These services are not usually provided in the ADS. In the event that you may wish to obtain such therapies, the ADS can provide referrals for you. Additionally, these services may be obtained from the Psychological Services Center (which houses the ADS).