Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that that is classified as an anxiety disorder and usually develops as a result of a frightening, life-threatening, or otherwise highly unsafe experience. PTSD sufferers re-experience the traumatic event or events in some way, tend to avoid places, people, or other things that remind them of the event (avoidance), and are exquisitely sensitive to normal life experiences (hyperarousal).
Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder include:
- Exposure to a Trauma – The person has been exposed to a trauma, in which he or she has experienced or witnessed an event involving the threat of death, serious injury, or a threat to the physical well-being of oneself or others. Note that only physical threats count in the definition of a trauma in PTSD. Situations that represent a psychological threat (e.g., a divorce, being criticized by a loved one, being teased) are not considered traumas in the definition of PTSD, even though they may lead to difficulties for the individual.
- A Response of Fear, Helplessness, or Horror – The immediate response to the trauma is one of fear, helplessness or horror (in children, it may be a response involving disorganized behavior or agitation). So, if an individual’s response to the trauma is one primarily of sadness or loss rather than fear (this is often the case following the death of a loved one who was ill), post traumatic stress disorder would likely not be diagnosed.
- Symptoms of Re-experiencing the Trauma – The individual persistently re-experiences the event
- Symptoms of Avoidance and Emotional Numbing – The individual avoids triggers and reminders of the trauma, or experiences a sense of emotional numbing.
- Symptoms of Increased Arousal and Vigilance – The individual has symptoms of arousal and vigilance that were not present before the trauma
Although this condition has likely existed since human beings have endured trauma, PTSD has only been recognized as a formal diagnosis since 1980. However, it was called by different names as early as the American Civil War, when combat veterans were referred to as suffering from “soldier’s heart.” In World War I, symptoms that were generally consistent with this syndrome were referred to as “combat fatigue.” Soldiers who developed such symptoms in World War II were said to be suffering from “gross stress reaction,” and many troops in Vietnam who had symptoms of what is now called PTSD were assessed as having “post-Vietnam syndrome.” PTSD has also been called “battle fatigue” and “shell shock.”
Virtually any trauma, defined as an event that is life-threatening or that severely compromises the physical or emotional well-being of an individual or causes intense fear, may cause PTSD. Such events often include either experiencing or witnessing a severe accident or physical injury, receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis, being the victim of kidnapping or torture, exposure to war combat or to a natural disaster, exposure to other disaster (for example, plane crash) or terrorist attack, being the victim of rape, mugging, robbery, or assault, enduring physical, sexual, emotional, or other forms of abuse, as well as involvement in civil conflict.
Treatments for PTSD usually include psychological and medical treatments. Education about the illness, helping the individual talk about the trauma directly, exploration and modification of inaccurate ways of thinking about it, and teaching the person ways to manage symptoms and are the usual techniques used in psychotherapy. Family and couples’ counseling, parenting classes, and education about conflict resolution are other useful psychotherapeutic interventions. York Region Psychological Services have therapists experienced in treating PTSD and its associated disorders. We use a variety of treatment including hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and EMDR.