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Understanding PTSD

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Not everyone that has experienced trauma will develop PTSD

Definition of Trauma types and characteristics.

Trauma can be a once-off event or can be a continuation of harmful experiences in someone's life. These events can include: interpersonal violence, combat, natural or man made disasters, accidents or long term neglect and abuse. Depending upon the individuals past and how they psychologically respond to those experiences, will determine whether they will develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not everybody that experiences trauma will develop PTSD or Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). PTSD is a psychological response to trauma that involves re-experiencing the trauma, intrusive and recurring memories of the trauma and avoidance behaviours as well as sleep and mood disturbances. ASD is the same but only within the first month following the trauma- thereafter the diagnosis is PTSD. PTSD may be delayed for many years after the event. (Barlow & Durand 2012)


There are many predictors of trauma as well protective factors.


The predictors include;

*Negative cognitive style,

*Prior trauma or abuse,

*Family history of anxiety,

*Genetic predisposition,

*Poor coping skills.

The protective factors include;

*Good social and/or family support,

*A connected religious or spiritual community

*Resilience

*Positive cognitive style


PTSD is often used by people to describe their response to their traumatic experience, thinking that having nightmares and sleeplessness is PTSD. However the diagnostic criteria for PTSD is a bit more complex and not as common as people think. PTSD is a disorder that affects around 1% of the population and is higher in females than in males (Barlow & Durand 2012). Although psychologically unsettling, not everybody develops PTSD as a result of a traumatic experience (Breslau, 2009). Studies of epidemiologic occurrence of PTSD in America have found that less than 10% of people develop PTSD after trauma as defined by the DSM-IV-TR (2000), despite around 50% to 80% of various population samples having had experienced a traumatic event over their lifetime (Kessler et al. 1995; Breslau, 2009).


To meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -5 (DSM-5, 2013) the client must have at least one symptom from each of the seven criteria.

Criteria A: The stressor, the traumatic event that the person experienced or witnessed.

Criteria B: The intrusion symptoms, such as nightmares and flashbacks of the traumatic event.

Criteria C: The avoidance of the trauma such as avoiding the people involved or the place where the trauma occurred.

Criteria D: Negative changes in mood and thoughts such as; global assessments of self or the world, trouble with recollecting the event and reduced interest in previously enjoyable activities.

Criteria E: Changes in reactivity and arousal such as; problems sleeping, hyper-vigilance and self-destructive or short-tempered behaviour.

Criteria F: The length of time; symptoms must persist for one month or more.

Criteria G: The degree in which the trauma has impacted on the individuals work, family or social life.

Criteria H: Distinguishes the symptoms from other disorders, medications or illness. Along with those criteria, the psychologist must ascertain whether the client has other trauma identifying features such as a distorted sense of reality or detachment from themselves. (DSM-5, 2013)


If you think you may have PTSD please make an appointment with your doctor and ask for a mental health care plan.

Or alternatively, call Penny for an appointment for therapeutic intervention and strategies. Penny is unable to diagnose PTSD

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