Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is an emotional disorder that results from a very frightening, life-threatening or highly stressful event or experience. Following the trauma, symptoms arise after a delay of anywhere from months to years later.

How do I know if I have PTSD?

If you answer yes to one or more of the following questions and you’ve experienced a traumatic event or very stressful life experience, then you may be suffering from PTSD:

  1. Are you troubled by nightmares, or by waking “flashbacks” (vivid images and strong emotions) associated with the trauma?
  2. Are you troubled or preoccupied by thoughts and feelings (e.g. excessive guilt) that are triggered by an earlier trauma?
  3. Do you startle easily?
  4. Do you find yourself to be hypersensitive to ordinary life experiences?
  5. Find it difficult to trust?
  6. Feel depressed or irritable too much of the time?
  7. Avoid people or situations that trigger feelings associated with the trauma?
  8. Feel numb or emotionally deadened?
  9. Suffer from sleep problems?
  10. Use alcohol or other substances in order to cope with unpleasant thoughts and feelings?

What causes PTSD?

PTSD is not caused by weakness or personality flaws! It is the result of extraordinary stress.Here are some of the types of experiences that can trigger PTSD:

  1. A very stressful, frightening or abusive childhood or period from childhood
  2. Natural disasters e.g. fire, flood, earthquake
  3. Serious or frightening accident
  4. Serious and/or frightening illness or medical treatment
  5. Being the victim or the witness of a crime, e.g. rape or other assault
  6. Wartime or high-risk civil experience, e.g. experience as a soldier, firefighter, police officer
  7. Other experience that led you to believe your life, safety or reputation were at risk

Why don’t symptoms develop right away?

During a very stressful or life-threatening experience, our bodies go into survival mode. The fight or flight response kicks in, helping us to respond to the situation at hand. We’ve all heard about parents who perform heroic acts to protect a child, or soldiers who risk their lives and, months or years later, develop anxiety or depression.

The very stress hormones that help us to take action can take a toll on the body over time, causing symptoms to arise later. And, because we had to act to survive and didn’t have time to think, reflect and process the experience, there are often complicated, unresolved thoughts and feelings.

What is the treatment for PTSD?

As with every psychological problem, no one treatment works for everyone. However, research indicates that psychotherapy can help the patient to face the trauma and resolve the painful, lingering thoughts, feelings and unanswered questions. In certain cases, medications also play a helpful role.

I find the following psychotherapy techniques especially useful in the treatment of PTSD: Cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness training and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). I have received level I and II certification in EMDR, and would be happy to answer any questions about the process. Information is also available at

Content and webdesign © 2009 Karen Robson, MFT