Understanding Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop when people experience a traumatic event. It can occur when the initial emotional upset of the experience does not go away after a few days or weeks. Instead, people are left with symptoms that affect all parts of their lives.   

What kinds of traumatic events can cause PTSD?

Traumatic events that have the potential to cause PTSD are events where the life or physical safety of a person, their loved ones, or the people around them, is under threat. The event might happen to the person directly or indirectly to someone else. Indirect events include;

  • Witnessing someone else’s life or physical safety being threatened;
  • Learning about loved one’s traumatic event; or 
  • Being repeatedly exposed to the details of another person’s traumatic event. This usually happens as part of a person’s job. Examples are a police officer, lawyer, or paramedic. 

Distressing events that do not threaten a person’s life or physical safety, such as a relationship breakdown or loss of employment, are not considered to have the potential to cause PTSD. But, they may contribute to the development of other mental health issues. 

Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Most people will recover in a few days or weeks. They recover by using their coping strategies and with support from their loved ones. For those that don’t recover, around 10% will develop PTSD.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms can have an impact on every aspect of life. They include;

  • Re-living the traumatic event – People often say they think about the event a lot, replaying it over and over in their mind, even when they don’t want to. They might have strong physical and emotional reactions when remembering the event, such as heart palpitations and feelings of panic. 
  • Feeling wound up – Some have trouble sleeping or concentrating. They feel angry or irritable. They might do things that could cause themselves harm. They often feel they are constantly on the lookout for danger.  
  • Avoiding things that are reminders of the event – Some avoid internal reminders of the event (such as thoughts or feelings) or external reminders (such as people, places, situations, conversations, or media content).
  • Negative thoughts and feelings – People often describe trouble feeling positive emotions or having strong negative emotions. They say they feel overwhelmed with feelings like distress, fear, anger, guilt, and shame. The traumatic event might have made them think more negatively about themselves, other people, and the world. 

What treatments are available for PTSD and its symptoms?

The good news is that scientific studies have shown that there are psychological therapies that can treat PTSD symptoms. These therapies help people to process their experience of a traumatic event, reduce their symptoms of trauma, and return to their everyday lives. Some of the best known of these therapies are Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Eye Movement Desensitization Retraining (EMDR), and Prolonged Exposure (PE). 

Further Resources

Phoenix Australia, the Australian National Centre of Excellence in Posttraumatic Mental Health, has published the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Complex PTSD (2021). The Guidelines provide a range of helpful factsheets and videos on PTSD and its treatment.

The Headstrong Psychology team often work with people with PTSD. We are able to assess and diagnose PTSD and offer CPT and EMDR treatments. Please get in touch with us on 0431 998 351 if you would like to discuss a booking with one of our clinical psychologists.

Trauma & PTSD




Understanding Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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