Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Helpful Treatments

1) Intrusions related to the trauma

  • nightmares
  • intrusive recollections of the event
  • dissociative reactions
  • intense physiological distress after being reminded of the event
  • intense psychological reactions after being reminded of the event

2) Avoidance

  • efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the event
  • efforts to avoid places, people or things associated with the event

3) Changes in mood and cognitions:

  • unable to remember important aspects of the event
  • negative beliefs and expectations
  • distorted blame of self or others
  • persistent negative emotions such as shame and anger
  • diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • feelings of detachment or estrangement
  • restricted range of affect (e.g. diminished ability to feel love)

4) Increased Arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance to perceived threats
  • Exaggerated startle responses

Most people will experience many of the symptoms above immediately after a traumatic event.  For most trauma survivors, these symptoms will gradually reduce over time through a process of natural recovery.  For some people, the symptoms remain, become a chronic problem, and interfere with daily life.  When this happens, it is diagnosed as PTSD.

There are many factors that may predispose some people and not others to develop PTSD such as past experiences, past history of psychiatric illness, family history of psychiatric illness, and the type of trauma experienced.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Prolonged Exposure Therapy, a component of CBT, has been shown to be an effective treatment for PTSD.  This technique is used as a way to help trauma survivors emotionally process the traumatic event.  Prolonged exposure involves gradually confronting fearful memories/reminders of the trauma.  This technique allows trauma survivors to learn that memories and reminders are not the same as the trauma itself, thereby reducing symptoms of anxiety.  Many CBT treatments for PTSD also include cognitive therapy techniques.  These approaches help trauma survivors change negative patterns of thinking that have been shown to maintain PTSD symptoms.  An additional component of CBT for PTSD often involves anxiety management techniques such as relaxation and breathing re-training to deal with the intense physiological distress that often occurs with PTSD.

For more information please visit the National Centre for PTSD: