What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how is it treated?

PTSD can occur following exposure to an actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual assault and may be experienced directly or witnessed in person1. PTSD can also occur in first responders (i.e paramedics, police officers, etc.) who are exposed to repeated aversive details of traumatic events. Due to the nature of the traumatic memory, information about the event is processed in such a way that the person feels a sense of current threat2.

PTSD is not solely an anxiety disorder3 and involves1:

  • Re-experiencing the event: People with PTSD experience recurrent thoughts, dreams or flashback of the event with the sense that the trauma is happening all over again.
  • Changes in arousal: Due to re-experiencing of the event and feeling a sense of current threat, the person may find they are on high alert for threat, they may be jumpy at loud noises, become irritable and angry, and undertake reckless or self-destructive behaviour, and have difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
  • Changes in thinking/emotions: The nature and interpretation of the traumatic memory may lead to changes in the way the person views themselves, others and the world2. People may feel detached from others, have difficulty remembering aspects of the event, have an inability to experience positive emotions, and feel less interested in pleasurable activities.
  • Avoidance: The distress and arousal associated with re-experiencing symptoms can lead the person to avoid reminders of the event, such as distressing thoughts, people, places or activities. This prevents change in the trauma memory, as well as prevents change in emotions and thinking patterns related to this event.

Many people with PTSD are successfully treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing4. These treatments work to reduce the above four core features of PTSD. If you think you may be experiencing PTSD, talk to your GP and Psychologist about treatment options.


1. American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed). Washington, DC.

2. Ehlers, A., & Clark, D. (2000). A cognitive model of posttraumatic stress disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38(4), 319-345.

3. Stein, D., et al. (2014). DSM-5 and ICD-11 definitions of posttraumatic stress disorder: investigating “narrow” and “broad” approaches. Depress Anxiety, 31(6), 494-505.

4. Bisson, JI, et al. (2013). Psychological therapies for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 11. CD003388.

by Lisa Miller, Psychologist at Seed Psychology