Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

If you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you’re not alone. It can develop if you experience a situation in which your safety or life has been threatened, or witness something that is especially disturbing.

People at increased risk for PTSD include soldiers, prisoners of war, veterans, or victims of war or combat. Others who may be diagnosed with PTSD could have experienced sexual or physical abuse or assault, witnessed a violent act, suffered a serious accident, survived a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake or experienced a terrorist attack. Signs of PTSD may begin soon after the event. In other cases, new or severe signs develop months or perhaps years later.

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Factors that can influence the development of the disorder include the intensity and duration of the trauma, whether you or someone important to you was injured, how strongly you reacted, whether you felt in control, and the amount of support you received after the event.

Signs of PTSD are:

  • Nightmares
  • Problems sleeping
  • Flashbacks or feelings the event is happening all over again
  • Irritability
  • Lack of interest in life events
  • Feeling on edge, alone, worried, guilty or sad

Symptoms must last longer than one month to be diagnosed as PTSD.

If you think you have this disorder, talk with your doctor or a mental health professional. PTSD can be treated through psychotherapy (“talk” therapy), medications, or a combination of the two.

It is important to seek treatment from a mental health care provider who has experience in caring for patients with PTSD and can customize treatment. Because each person is different, treatment that worked for one may not be appropriate for another.

Psychotherapy may be done one-on-one or in a group setting. One helpful therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be recommended to help work through a traumatic experience.

There are three different CBT techniques:

  • Cognitive restructuring helps identify and change bad memories because sometimes people remember an event differently than what actually happened.
  • Exposure therapy involves repeated re-telling of the event in a safe, monitored setting in order to gain control of the overwhelming fear of the original situation.
  • Desensitization allows you to confront the trauma one detail at a time and eventually look at memories in a healthy way.

Antidepressant medications also can be prescribed to help control PTSD symptoms such as sadness or anger.

Treatment for PTSD typically lasts from three to six months. However, people with other psychiatric problems, such as depression or drug/alcohol abuse, may require professional counseling for a year or two, or even longer(2).

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides nearly 200 specialized PTSD programs for veterans(3), including group therapy, medicine, and one-to-one mental health assessment, testing, psychotherapy and family therapy. For more information about these services, visit

For a free physician referral, call (866) 236-5933.

Find a Psychiatrist

Need a doctor for your care?