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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Last updated Thursday, 16 July 2009
By Shawn Goldberg, Trauma Counsellor and Consultant Psychologist.

After being attacked by a home intruder Jenny noticed significant changes to her daily life. She was unable to sleep, and was very sensitive to all noises in and out of the house. She felt in constant fear of being attacked again, and spent most of her day playing and replaying the attack in her mind. Sometimes, these ‘playbacks’ seemed so real she felt like she was reliving it again, with similar feelings of fear and powerlessness.

At night, if she could get to sleep, she had nightmares and would wake in a cold sweat. She avoided anything that reminded her of the attack. She stopped speaking with friends and family, stopped going to work, and barely left the house unless it was absolutely necessary. She found it difficult to relate to others when they did call or come around, so she isolated herself even further. She took to alcohol to block out all of these thoughts and feelings.

What does it look like? (Symptoms)

Intrusive Symptoms
  • Frequent emotionally intense memories of the trauma such as thoughts, images and dreams
  • Sometimes these memories are so intense it feels like the trauma is happening again

Avoidance Symptoms
  • Avoiding situations, people or places which remind one of the event
  • In severe cases, the person may become “numb”, withdrawing into themselves in an attempt to shut out the painful memories and feelings
  • Take drugs or alcohol to block out the memories and feelings

Arousal Symptoms
  • Feeling “jumpy” or on guard
  • Reduced sleep
  • Loss of appetite or over-eating
  • Extreme watchfulness
  • Irritability and outbursts of anger
  • Unable to concentrate and focus

How can it cause a problem in my life?

Not all people will have the same experience or reaction to trauma. Some people do well by talking to family members or friends and remembering to take care of themselves. Others may not be able to focus on what they need or may not know how to get their needs met. In extreme cases PTSD means that you can’t function in a normal way. In Jenny’s case she was unable to:
  • Go to work
  • Leave the house
  • Look after her home
  • Speak with family and friends
  • Sleep properly
  • Stop thinking about the event
  • Stop drinking
  • Trust others

Who else experiences it?

  • 65% of men and 50% of women in Australia have been exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime
  • Between 2%-25% will develop PTSD after exposure to trauma, and 50% of them will improve without treatment
  • Lifetime prevalence is between 1%-14%
  • High risk groups include emergency workers and combat veterans
  • Speak with family and friends
  • Some traumatic stressors have higher risks such as rape with physical injury


What can I do about it? How can I manage it?

In time, the symptoms of PTSD disappear in most people. However, in some they will persist. Occasionally, symptoms appear some time—even years—after the trauma. Many treatments are available, but most include the following components:
  • Education:  helps one understand common reactions and provides reassurance
  • Stress management:  helps lower the distress / anxiety reactions. includes relaxation techniques and controlled breathing,  resuming a normal routine to help the person feel able to cope again with the demands of everyday life
  • Alcohol and drug treatment may be needed
  • Dealing with the memories:  The goal is to remember the trauma without feeling overwhelmed by distress. When this happens, the symptoms of PTSD will be reduced
  • Drug treatment:  Several medications can reduce symptoms of PTSD, namely SSRIs.  Long term medication (up to a few years) may be required in some cases
  • You may wish to talk to your doctor or therapist about what it will involve.

What outlook can I expect?

Most people suffering from a post-traumatic syndrome should expect a good response to treatment in the initial 3 months of treatment.  A good response means that when thinking of the event, it isn’t as disturbing as it had been.  Whilst the traumatic event is still difficult, it means that life will return to its routine, and the person will feel safer.

What resources are available for help?
Schiraldi (2000)
. The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: a guide to healing, recovery, and growth.

Williams & Poijula (2002). The PTSD Workbook.

David V. Baldwin Trauma Information Pages        

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

The Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health  

This information was provided by Shawn Goldberg, Trauma Counsellor and Consultant.

He can be contacted on:info.gif

(03) 9867 7766
Mobile: 0413 189 079   
Consulting Address: Medical Centre, Suite 9 Level 4, 517 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne 3004

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