What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Dave Piltz

Known symptoms

The symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder can differ and may manifest as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, flashbacks, psychosis, and emotional numbness (Preston, & Johnson, 2014). These symptoms need to be long lasting with other symptoms developing such as insomnia, hypervigilance, irritability, avoidance and hyper arousal (Patterson, et al, 2010).

Underlying causes

The underlying causes stem from being part of or witnessing a traumatic event. Typical traumatic events may be events such as witnessing injury or death, rape or molestation, natural disasters or fires, physical abuse/attack, combat, or life threatening events. In addition there is suspicion that at the time of the event there is a neurochemical reaction which affects the brain in some manner (Preston, & Johnson, 2014).


Due to the variety of symptoms, the common medical intervention is to treat the specific symptom. For example transient psychotic symptoms tend to respond to a short course of antipsychotic medications. Intrusive symptoms and emotional numbness respond well to SSRI’s and the antihypertensive drug, prazosin, seems to reduce nightmares. In addition alpha adrenergic agonists seem to help symptoms overall. There is also research that suggests that excessive glutamate and cortisol may be a factor (Preston, & Johnson, 2014).


Approaches need to deal with assisting the individual to create behaviors to not only deal with the effects of the disorder but also that create effective and healthy habits. From a systems perspective using therapies such as Solution-Focused approach to create new behaviors that provide a quality of life in dealing with the intrusive symptoms. In addition, psychoeducation along with family sessions using all of these approaches is advisable (Gehart, & Tuttle, 2003). Non-system based therapies that are effective is cognitive behavior therapy and dialectical behavior therapy (Patterson, et al, 2010).

Alternative treatments

One should consider meditation, yoga, and or massage to help to relax and calm the person. Exercise and proper nutrition is also important in allowing the body to be well balanced so that new behaviors can become habits more effectively.  In addition acupuncture, acupressure, Reiki or other energy modalities should be considered to help relax and potentially let go of emotional content that is not helpful.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Gehart, D., & Tuttle, A., (2003) Theory-based treatment planning for marriage and family therapists. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

Gehart, D., (2014). Mastering competencies in family therapy a practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation. Belmont, CA:  Cengage Learning.

Patterson, J. E., & Albala, A.A., & McCahill, M.E., & Edwards, T.M. (2010). The therapist’s guide to psychopharmacology: Working with patients, families, and physicians to optimize care. New York: Guilford Press.

Preston, J., & Johnson, J. (2014). Clinical psychopharmacology made ridiculously simple. 8th Miami, FL: MedMaster.

Smith, P., (2008). A concise guide to better health and longevity what you must know about vitamins, minerals, herbs & more choosing the nutrients that are right for you. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers.