Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms & Treatment

Whilst you should avoid self-diagnosis, the below symptoms can be useful in beginning a discussion with a psychologist. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek help from a practitioner as soon as possible.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder and can occur as an acute disorder soon after a trauma, or have a delayed onset in which symptoms occur more than 6 months after the trauma. It develops as a result of an extreme and often unexpected event or series of events. These events can include, but are not limited to, those that are related to physical or sexual assault, accidents, natural or man-made disasters, and war and/or military combat.

A person experiencing PTSD symptoms has usually been exposed to, or threatened with death or serious physical harm. PTSD may also occur if an individual has witnessed these events happening to others, especially a close friend or relative.

Stressful events, such as marital breakdown, job loss, or normal bereavement are not normally thought of as producing PTSD. For PTSD to occur, the trauma involved must also lead to feelings of intense fear, helplessness and horror.

There are three main types of PTSD symptoms:

  • Re-living the trauma through distressing memories, nightmares or “flashbacks”, or experiencing severe psychological distress at exposure to cues that resemble any aspect of the traumatic event. These may also include recurring and intrusive, upsetting recollections of the traumatic event, such as images, thoughts, or perceptions, and behaving or feeling as if the trauma was recurring in the moment.
  • Feeling numb or emotionally cut off from others, as well as an ongoing avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event The person also avoids any of the cues or resemblances associated with the original trauma and there is a numbing of one’s general response (which was not there before the trauma), including:
    • making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or topics associated with the trauma;
    • making efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that lead to memories of the trauma; and
    • not being able to remember an important aspect of the event
  • Persistent signs of heightened anxiety and physical tension, increased aggression and irritability, and lack of interest in social activities. This may lead to feeling detached or disconnected from others, trouble concentrating, hypervigilance, and being easily startled.

These PTSD symptoms can often cause serious problems in every aspect of an individual’s relationships, employment and day-to-day functioning.

These symptoms taken together must have lasted for at least a month, and interfered with your normal social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

The Psychologists at Foundation Psychology Melbourne can provide support developing a treatment plan that may include:

  • The use of “systematic desensitisation”, which helps to reduce symptoms by encouraging you to remember the traumatic event and express your feelings about it. Over time, memories of the event should become less frightening.
  • Support groups, where people who have had similar experiences share their feelings, may also be helpful.

People with PTSD may also have problems with:

  • Alcohol or other substance abuse
  • Depression
  • Related medical conditions

In most cases, these problems should be treated before desensitisation therapy. Our staff can assist you with queries you have about a treatment program tailored to your needs.