What is PTSD?

Terrible events can cause extreme feelings of helplessness, horror, and fear. These events might include physical or sexual assault, childhood abuse, car accidents, natural disasters, robbery, and war. People with PTSD develop anxiety and intrusive thoughts about the event, and may feel at times as though the event were happening again. Classic symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, being easily startled, anger outbursts, feelings of detachment, and hopelessness about the future.  People with PTSD often avoid people, places or things that remind them of the trauma. PTSD can occur within one month of the event, or may be delayed for many years after the trauma.

There is hope for individuals with PTSD, because these problems can be effectively treated with cognitive and behavior therapy.  Cognitive behavioral treatments typically involve four main components. Education about the nature of anxiety helps the individual understand his or her responses and teaches the individual ways to more effectively cope with anxiety. Somatic management skills teach relaxation and breathing techniques, which help the individual manage the physical symptoms and discomfort of anxiety. Cognitive skills address the individual’s beliefs and thoughts, and focus on teaching more adaptive, realistic thinking styles. And, all treatments for anxiety involve some form of behavioral exposure, a gradual, step-by-step confrontation of the fear with mastery and skill.

For many people, cognitive  behavioral therapy alone will be enough to overcome or manage PTSD. For some individuals, however, medication, in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy, can foster a return to a full and satisfying life. Programs combining pharmacology and cognitive behavioral therapy are available for the range of anxiety disorders.