Section Authors: Greg Hajcak and Lisa Starr (Stony Brook University)
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, sometimes develops following a traumatic event in which the person experienced intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Such events can include rape, assault, combat, kidnapping, or other experiences in which the person was threatened with death or serious injury, or in which the person witnessed someone else experiencing a traumatic event. People who develop PTSD following a trauma often “re-experience” the trauma, through intrusive images, thoughts, and dreams relating to the event, and sometimes feel or act as if the event is recurring. Often people with PTSD become very frightened, distressed, and/or physiologically reactive in response to cues in the environment that remind them of the event. People with PTSD avoid people, places, and/or activities that remind them of the trauma, and try to avoid thinking about the trauma. Sometimes people with PTSD cannot remember aspects of the trauma. PTSD is also associated with lowered enjoyment of/ participation in activities, feelings of detachment from others, difficulty experiencing certain emotions or being affectionate, and a sense that one’s future is foreshortened. In addition, individuals with PTSD tend to be easily aroused, including difficulty sleeping or concentrating, irritability, hypervigilance, and exaggerated startle response. To be diagnosed with PTSD, the person must have experienced these symptoms for at least one month. Individuals who experience these symptoms for less than one month are sometimes given a diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder, which often develops into PTSD. PTSD often co-occurs with other psychological disorders, such as major depression and substance-related disorders.
- Prolonged Exposure NEW (strong research support)
- Present-Centered Therapy (strong research support)
- Cognitive Processing Therapy NEW (strong research support)
- Seeking Safety (for PTSD with co-morbid Substance Use Disorder) (strong research support)
- Stress Inoculation Therapy (modest research support)
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (strong research support/controversial)
- Psychological Debriefing (no research support/potentially harmful)
Note: Other psychological treatments may also be effective in treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, but they have not been evaluated with the same scientific rigor as the treatments above. Many medications may also be helpful for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, but we do not cover medications in this website. Of course, we recommend a consultation with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and discussion of various treatment options. When you meet with a professional, be sure to work together to establish clear treatment goals and to monitor progress toward those goals. Feel free to print this information and take it with you to discuss your treatment plan with your therapist.