May 25, 2017

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Person sitting on ground with knees pulled up and head down

photo © 2007 Carleton Torpin

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that affects survivors of all kinds of trauma, from natural disasters and automobile accidents to child abuse and combat. It can occur in people of any age, socioeconomic background, race, religion, or nationality.1 Symptoms generally first appear within one to three months of the initial trauma. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until years after the traumatic event. If left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD can last for decades.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

The symptoms of PTSD can vary in severity and frequency, as well as in presentation. Some common symptoms include:

  • Irrational anger or fear
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Reliving the trauma in thoughts and dreams
  • Hallucinations or flashbacks
  • Avoidance of anything that triggers memories of the traumatic event, including but not limited to people, places, sounds, and emotions
  • An inability to feel or express emotions
  • Trouble maintaining relationships
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking or drug use

In addition, children suffering from PTSD may refuse to talk about the traumatic event or even subconsciously block all memory of it. They may also act out the trauma while playing.2

Can PTSD be treated?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is highly treatable. With the right treatment, an individual can learn to cope with the symptoms of PTSD and live a normal, productive life. Facing the traumatic memories rather than avoiding them is an important part of recovery,3 but it can be challenging and even frightening when the person first starts a treatment regimen. It is important that treatment be conducted and supervised by a trained professional.

What treatment options are available for PTSD?

Several types of treatment have proven effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, has proven effective in some people suffering from PTSD. Support groups can also help by allowing those with PTSD to share their experiences, challenges, and successes with others who have a personal understanding. Hypnosis to help the person remember and face the traumatic event is another treatment that has shown positive results in some patients.4 Behavior modification therapy can help a person with PTSD learn to change the way he reacts to reminders and memories of the traumatic event. Prolonged exposure therapy, where the patient is repeatedly exposed to the traumatic event over a period of time through talking about the event or experiencing it through virtual reality, has helped many people.

What to do if you suspect you may have PTSD

If you suspect that you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, you should seek help from a professional. Your family doctor is a good place to start. He can refer you to a mental health care professional who can provide a diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment. You can also visit your local center for mental health and ask to speak with someone about the possibility of PTSD. If you are a veteran, contact your VA medical center, community based outpatient center, or Vet Center. These can be located through the VA Facilities Locator.

For more information on PTSD

National Center for PTSD

National Institute of Mental Health: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD Support Services


  1. PTSD Alliance: Who’s at risk for developing PTSD?
  2. What Are the Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments of Childhood Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  4. Heal My PTSD, LLC: PTSD Professional Perspective: How Hypnosis Relieves Symptoms
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