What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

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LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Therapist

Alex is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She earned a Master of Social Work degree from the USC with a concentration in Children and Families and a sub-concentration in Military Social Work.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that affects millions, yet understanding its nuances can be challenging. This guide aims to offer a clearer picture of PTSD, its effects, and the available treatment options.

Understanding PTSD


PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. Such events range from personal assaults, natural disasters, to the horrors of war. It is a part of the body's natural fight-or-flight response which helps individuals avoid or respond to potential danger. Unlike general stress responses, PTSD involves prolonged and intense reactions that persist long after the traumatic event has passed, significantly disrupting an individual's life. 


Symptoms of PTSD are categorized into four main clusters:

  • Re-experiencing: This includes flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance: Individuals may steer clear of places, people, and activities that remind them of the trauma, often isolating themselves.
  • Negative alterations in cognition and mood: This can manifest as feelings of guilt or blame, estrangement, and diminished interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Increased arousal and reactivity: Symptoms include being easily startled, feeling tense, difficulty sleeping, and outbursts of anger.

Understanding these symptoms is vital for recognizing PTSD in oneself or others, paving the way for seeking help.


In the United States, 6% of adults will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with a notable prevalence among women at 9.7% compared to men at 3.6%. The condition is also particularly common in veterans, with rates ranging from 11% to 23% annually. Worldwide, the prevalence of PTSD is about 3.9% among the general population, but this rate increases in those who have experienced trauma. For a more detailed exploration of PTSD statistics, you can visit CFAH's article on PTSD statistics.

Causes and Risk Factors

PTSD results from exposure to severe trauma, with the risk factors being as varied as the traumatic events themselves. Key risk factors include:

  • Direct exposure to trauma: Being directly involved in or witnessing a traumatic event increases the risk.
  • Severity and duration of trauma: More severe and prolonged exposure to trauma can heighten the risk of developing PTSD.
  • Personal history: Individuals with a history of mental health issues or previous traumatic experiences may be more susceptible.
  • Lack of support: A lack of social support post-trauma can contribute to the development of PTSD.

Understanding these factors is crucial for early intervention and prevention efforts.

Diagnosis and Treatment


The process involves a detailed clinical evaluation based on the DSM-5 criteria, focusing on the individual's exposure to trauma and the persistence of symptoms. Diagnosis is the first step toward managing PTSD, guiding the treatment plan.

Treatment Options


Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) have proven effective. These therapies aim to process the trauma, reduce symptoms, and improve overall functioning.


Medications such as SSRIs (e.g., paroxetine, sertraline) are commonly prescribed to manage symptoms. Emerging research also points to the potential of other medications offering protective benefits against PTSD.

Living with PTSD and Taking the Next Step Towards Healing

Navigating life with PTSD involves a multifaceted approach incorporating therapy, medication, and support systems. Personalized treatment plans, developed in collaboration with healthcare providers, offer the best chance for recovery and managing symptoms.

If you're seeking support in your journey to recover from PTSD, we're here to help. Schedule a free consultation with us to discover how our personalized therapy approaches can assist you in healing. Learn more about our PTSD therapy services.

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