What is PTSD? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Explained

When you experience fear, your body initiates a “fight-or-flight” response. The purpose of this response is to protect you from harm. Although most people recover naturally from fearful events, experiencing ongoing symptoms may signify post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most people have heard of PTSD in the context of veterans and military personnel. But it’s important to know that PTSD can affect anyone, at any age, who has been affected by a traumatic event. It can even affect the family of the person who experienced the trauma.

One in thirteen Americans will develop PTSD in their lifetime, so it’s important to know what to look for should you, a friend, or a loved one begin exhibiting signs of this condition. We will discuss what PTSD is, risk factors, the symptoms to watch for, and how PTSD is treated.

What is PTSD?

PTSD used to be referred to as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue” because veterans are often affected by PTSD. However, it has been found that anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event can have PTSD.

Risk Factors of PTSD

While it is unknown why some people get PTSD, doctors do believe that, similar to most mental health problems, certain factors can make you more prone to developing PTSD. 

Some of these factors include:

  • Experiencing severe or long-lasting trauma
  • Experiencing trauma early in life, such as child abuse
  • Being exposed to traumatic events in your job – military personnel, medical personnel, and first responders 
  • Suffering from other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety
  • Having a substance abuse problem
  • Not having a good support system
  • Having a family history of mental health problems

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms typically begin within three months of the event. However, sometimes, they can take years to develop. Here are some of the symptoms that someone with PTSD may experience.

  • Intrusion Symptoms – Nightmares, flashbacks of the event happening again, frightening thoughts
  • Avoidance Symptoms – Refusal to talk about what happened, avoiding situations that remind them of the event
  • Arousal & Reactivity Symptoms – Trouble sleeping, irritability, outbursts of anger, hypersensitive to possible danger, feeling anxious and tense
  • Symptoms Affecting Mood & Thinking – Unable to remember aspects of what happened, feeling guilty or blaming themselves for what happened, feeling detached from others, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in life in general, mental health problems, e.g., depression, anxiety, and phobias
  • Physical Symptoms – Sweating, headaches, shaking, dizziness, stomach issues, feeling achy, chest pain, issues sleeping, a weakened immune system

PTSD Treatment

Everyone is different, and everyone experiences PTSD differently, so treatment varies from person to person. However, typical treatment involves medication, “talk” therapy, or a combination of both. Research has also shown that receiving support from family and friends is vital in recovery.


Antidepressants are the medications that are studied most for treating PTSD. They can help control symptoms like sadness, anger, and worry. There are other medications that patients can use who are experiencing nightmares and sleep problems. The most important thing to do is work with your doctor to find what works best for you and your symptoms.

“Talk” Therapy

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, involves talking with a mental health professional to work through the symptoms of your condition. The goal of talk therapy is to teach you ways to react to the event that triggered your PTSD.

The treatment can be one-on-one or in a group. One form of therapy often used is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT may include:

  • Exposure Therapy – This type of CBT helps people face their fears and learn to control them. Gradually and safely, the patient will get exposed to the trauma. Exposure therapy uses writing, imagining, or even visiting the location where the event happened. These tools are then used to help the patient cope with their feelings.
  • Cognitive Restructuring – Cognitive restructuring helps people make sense of their bad memories. People will often remember the event differently from how it actually happened, which can make them feel guilty or shameful for something that is not their fault. During this process, the therapist will help the patient look at the event realistically.

Regardless of the treatment received, someone with PTSD should seek treatment from a mental health provider experienced with PTSD. And it’s important to remember that people with PTSD often need to try different treatments to find the one, or the combination, that works best for them.

You Don’t Have to Face PTSD Alone

Some people who live with PTSD may feel that they are weak and should be able to handle their struggle alone. But it’s important to remember that you are not weak, and you are not alone. It is possible to relieve your PTSD symptoms through therapy, a good support system, and medication.

Stanley E. Wipfli is a licensed trauma therapist based in downtown San Francisco. He specializes in therapy for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Trained in evidence-based therapy methods, he uses his extensive experience and knowledge to provide you with the highest quality of care.

Don’t suffer any longer. Contact Stanley Wipfli to schedule your in-person or virtual consultation today.