What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
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What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?




PTSD is a complex mental illness. With proper information and care, it can be treated successfully.


After reading this article, you will be more informed about this serious disorder.






What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?


PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a mental health diagnosis, identifying a mental illness. Both the National Center for PTSD and The American Psychiatric Association defines it being exposed to an extreme stressor or traumatic event to which they responded with fear, helplessness, or horror, and experiencing four distinct types of symptoms related to the traumatic event/stressor.


People get PTSD after a traumatic event or series of events. War veterans were the first group studied around PTSD before it was even a formal and recognized disorder. This was because of the commonly gruesome traumatic experience of being in a war.


One way to think of PTSD is when someone’s “fight or flight” response is in overdrive, making it hard for the logical part of our brain to calm down our bodies.




What causes PTSD?


Exposure to an extreme stressor or traumatic event can cause PTSD. However, not everyone who is exposed to a traumatic event gets PTSD. Researchers from the Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work state that while around half of all Americans experience some type of traumatic incidents in their lives, only 7-8% of those people go on to develop PTSD. 




What are the four types of PTSD symptoms?


The National Institute of Mental Health outline the symptoms of PTSD. NIMH states that people with PTSD must have at least one re-experiencing symptom, one avoidance symptom, two arousal symptoms, and two cognitive/mood symptoms. What do these symptoms look like?


Re-experiencing symptoms can include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Bad dreams


Avoidance symptoms can include:

  • Avoiding places, events, people, or objects that remind you of the event.
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the event.


Arousal symptoms can include:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Angry outbursts
  • Difficulty concentrating


Cognitive/Mood symptoms can include:

  • Trouble remembering key features of the event
  • Negative thoughts about yourself or the world
  • Distorted feelings of guilt/blame (i.e. blaming yourself or feeling guilty about things you had no control over)
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling detached from others
  • On going difficulty with feeling positive emotions (i.e. love or joy)


It is also important to remember after a traumatic experience, such as the death of a loved one, being in a natural disaster, or sexual assault, it is normal to experience symptoms consistent with PTSD.


If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms for more than three months after that event, it may be helpful to think about seeking out additional support.


Do I have PTSD


What are PTSD triggers?


Researchers from the International Review of Psychiatry talk about PTSD triggers as memories of the traumatic or stressful event that are brought into someone’s awareness involuntarily. Triggers can be words, thoughts, people, and images related to the trauma.


Triggers can also be related to “flashbacks.” These same researchers describe flashbacks and packed with sensory detail, possibly including physical symptoms (i.e. racing heart, sweating).


Flashbacks can be emotionally charged and distorting time (i.e. feeling like you are back in that moment). If you or someone you care about has PTSD it can be helpful to know about what triggers them.



Does PTSD affect memory?


PTSD can impact memory in a variety of ways. A researcher from University College London talks about how triggers and flashbacks are two ways that memory is impacted. This same researcher cites how moderate levels of stress can improve our brains ability to store memories, but a very high levels of stress have the opposite effect.


Because PTSD symptoms can also impact people emotions (i.e. arousal symptoms) it is possible when someone with PTSD experiences a high level of stress/emotion they have difficulty forming a memory.


For example, if someone with PTSD was out with friends and got into an intense argument, their emotion would be high, and they may not remember what they said to their friend.




What happens if PTSD goes untreated?


Often when people have PTSD, especially as the result of chronic stressful or traumatic events, they have learned coping skills to help them survive. So often these folks can get stuck in “survival mode.”


A study in the Croatian Medical Journal found that untreated PTSD was associated with a lower quality of life. It is important if you, a family member, or someone you care about are experiencing PTSD symptoms to consider seeking help from a mental health. Untreated PTSD is one of the risk factors for suicide. 


Its best that people with PTSD include both Counseling and Medication in their therapy plan.



Can PTSD ruin a relationship?


Any mental health issue can have a negative impact on your relationship. However, having PTSD does not mean you cannot have a happy romantic relationship. An article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology showed that couple based interventions were effective at reducing PTSD symptoms.




Can PTSD be cured?


We don’t think of any mental health issue, include PTSD, as being something that myself or my colleagues “cure.” Rather we think about how much space do symptoms take up. Often for untreated PTSD these symptoms impact folks in almost every areas of their lives.


Often the goal of therapy is to reduce the intensity (i.e. how big the feelings are) and duration (i.e. how long to do they last) of symptoms.




How do you treat PTSD?


There are a variety of evidenced-based treatments for PTSD. After selecting which one feels like a good fit for you, be sure and find a therapist trained in that approach. Often therapists will state if they are trained in a particular approach, if not you can ask what evidenced based approach they use. The options are listed below have all been shown to be effective.


  • Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)
    • The goal of NET is to help reorganize memories across the lifetime, mixing “hot” traumatic memories with “cold” autobiographical memories. A recent evaluation of the literature done in Issues in Mental Health Nursing found this approach to be effective at reducing PTSD symptoms.


  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
    • According to a research article in Frontiers in Psychology, EMDR is an effective way to treat PTSD. The article explains that EMDR is focused on treating PTSD using bilateral stimulation (side to side movement), usually of the eyes. This moment is thought to reduce the discomfort caused traumatic memories. The goal of this approach is to reprocess and integrate memories.



  • Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
    • Researchers in Military Medicine showed ART to be effective at treating PTSD. This approach is a brief therapy, meaning it typically takes place over 2 to 5 sessions. This approach uses bilateral eye movement and two other components to reduce PTSD symptoms.



For more information, please visit our page about Trauma Therapy, Individual Therapy, or read our blog post about What to Expect from Therapy.






Brewin, C. R. (2001). Memory processes in post-traumatic stress disorder. International Review of Psychiatry13(3), 159-163.

Grech, P., & Grech, R. (2020). A Comparison of Narrative Exposure Therapy and Non-Trauma-Focused Treatment in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Issues in Mental Health Nursing41(2), 91-101.

Kip, K. E., Rosenzweig, L., Hernandez, D. F., Shuman, A., Sullivan, K. L., Long, C. J., & Sahebzamani, F. M. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of accelerated resolution therapy (ART) for symptoms of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Military medicine178(12), 1298-1309.

Kugler, J., Andresen, F. J., Bean, R. C., & Blais, R. K. (2019). Couplebased interventions for PTSD among military veterans: An empirical review. Journal of clinical psychology75(10), 1737-1755.

National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml#part_145373

Priebe, S., Matanov, A., Janković Gavrilović, J., McCrone, P., Ljubotina, D., Knežević, G., & Schützwoh, M. (2009). Consequences of untreated posttraumatic stress disorder following war in former Yugoslavia: morbidity, subjective quality of life, and care costs. Croatian medical journal50(5), 465-475.

Smith, P., Yule, W., Perrin, S., Tranah, T., Dalgleish, T. I. M., & Clark, D. M. (2007). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD in children and adolescents: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 46(8), 1051-1061.

Valiente-Gómez, A., Moreno-Alcázar, A., Treen, D., Cedrón, C., Colom, F., Perez, V., & Amann, B. L. (2017). EMDR beyond PTSD: A systematic literature review. Frontiers in psychology8, 1668.

Whitworth, J. D. (2016). The role of psychoeducation in trauma recovery: Recommendations for content and delivery. Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work13(5), 442-451.




Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.




Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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