Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by Courtney Langley

What is PTSD? How is it diagnosed? What are the symptoms?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a disorder that develops from the exposure to a traumatic event that was life threatening and caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. There are 20 different possible symptoms of the disorder that fall into 4 different criterion categories. These categories include:

1. Intrusion

2. Avoidance

3. Negative alterations in cognitions and mood

4. Alterations in arousal and reactivity

A total of 6 symptoms, 1 from each of the first two categories and 2 from each of the last two categories, must be present in order to diagnose an individual with PTSD.


1. Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories.

2. Traumatic nightmares.

3. Dissociative reactions which may occur on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness.

4. Intense or prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders.

5. Marked physiological reactivity after exposure to trauma-related stimuli.


1. Trauma-related thoughts or feelings.

2. Trauma-related external reminders.

Negative alterations in cognition and mood

1. Inability to recall key features of the traumatic event.

2. Persistent negative beliefs and expectations about oneself or the world.

3. Persistent distorted blame of self or others for causing the traumatic event or for resulting consequences.

4. Persistent negative trauma-related emotions.

5. Markedly diminished interest in significant activities.

6. Feeling alienated from others.

7. Constricted affect: persistent inability to experience positive emotions.

Alterations in arousal and reactivity

1. Irritable or aggressive behavior.
2. Self-destructive or reckless behavior.
3. Hypervigilance.
4. Exaggerated startle response.
5. Problems in concentration.
6. Sleep disturbance.

Who suffers from PTSD? What is the prevalence of this disorder?

Any individual can experience a traumatic event in their lifetime and develop post traumatic stress disorder symptoms, however, men are more likely to experience trauma while women are more likely to experience PTSD after trauma. Loved ones in the life of an individual who has experienced a traumatic event can also develop PTSD, known as secondary trauma. Even if the loved ones do not develop the disorder, they are still affected by the way the trauma changes the individual who experienced it.

Bronfenbrenner's Human Ecological Systems Theory

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When a traumatic event takes place in the life of a loved one, a friend, an acquaintance, or in the life of a individual that is cared about by someone you know, the effects are widespread. Bronfenbrenner's Human Ecological Systems Theory displays a sort of ripple effect in our lives. If an individual experiences trauma or suffers from PTSD, the microsystem is most effected. Relationships with the most important factors in the individual's life are changed. School, church, and peers can become a safe haven or can become dreaded because the individual no longer feels like him or her self. The wider spread exosystem can play a big part during the post trauma time period. Legal or social welfare services may become involved in the situation and media may even cover the event, making potentially private information available to everyone. Lastly, the macrosystem involving the attitudes of the culture can be permanently influenced. Precautions may be taken and rules may be changed in order to strive for a similar event to never happen again. All of these effects take place over time. Some can be immediate, while others may take months to feel the effects.

Guilt, Shame, Self-blame

When individuals experience a traumatic event, they often blame themselves for not being able to control their own lives.

Trauma and PTSD Statistics from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (2007):

  • About 60% of US adults experience at least one trauma in their life.
  • About 7-8% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  • 13-17% of women living in the U.S. have been the victims of completed rape
  • 94% of women experienced these symptoms during the two weeks immediately following the rape

How do individuals overcome PTSD? Who can help? What are some resources?

Individuals can seek help from family and friends, but often times therapy helps the victim learn how to take back control of their life. While there are many resources, informational websites and helping programs, to further individual's knowledge of PTSD and the different ways to heal, there is one that is particularly useful. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) has many links including volunteers, education, and meetings. Additional resources include:

  • treating trauma
  • assessing trauma
  • online trauma training
  • teaching trauma
  • researching trauma


Goff, B (2013). Understanding Trauma and Traumatic Stress. Kansas State University. Manhattan, K.S. Fall, 2013.

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (2013). Deerfield, I.L. 2013.

National Center for PTSD (2007). US Department of Veterans Affairs. Washington, D.C. 18 January, 2013.