By Eve Lorgen, MA

My first introduction to PTSD was in a graduate course seminar in 1989 called “Trauma and Addictions”. My teacher and professional mentor, Walt Rutherford, PhD is a licensed M.F.T. (Marriage and Family Counselor) in San Diego, California. Walt is also a veteran of the Viet Nam War. It was Ruthorford’s and other’s work with many Viet Nam Veterans that popularized the term (PTSD), following end of the Viet Name War, when many Vets returned, only to experience numerous problems due to the trauma they experienced during combat. A summarized version of the DSM IV criteria for PTSD is as follows:

The development of characteristic symptoms that follow a psychologically distressing event, which is outside the normal range of human experience. The trauma elicits intense fear, terror and helplessness. The symptoms involve re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the event or numbing of general responsiveness and increased arousal. Traumatic events such as a serious threat to ones life or physical integrity; a serious threat or harm to ones children, spouse or close interpersonal relationship; sudden destruction of one’s home or community; or seeing another person seriously injured or killed. Disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, automobile or plane crashes, fires, bombings, torture, rape, domestic violence and combat can create PTSD reactions. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Recurrent and intrusive recollections, “flashbacks” of the event and /or nightmares. In some cases dissociative states are re-lived as if the event is happening. (Abreactions) This can happen if similar stressors such as bombing noises, violence or another disaster trigger the person.
  • A general numbing of responsiveness that was not present before the trauma. Detachment, dissociation and even psychogenic amnesia are also reported.
  • A loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, or the ability to feel emotional associated with intimacy and sexuality is markedly decreased.
  • Persistent symptoms of arousal such as insomnia, hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.
  • Difficulty in concentration, task completion, fears of losing control.
  • Increase in feelings of aggression, or explosive acts of aggressive behavior, combined with an inability to express angry feelings.

Symptoms such as dissociation, depression and anxiety are common. Impulsive behaviors may also occur, such as sudden relocation, unexplained absences or other changes in lifestyle. Physical symptoms such as headache, vertigo and stomach ulcers can be present. Guilt feelings of trauma survivors is also a common theme. Common complications are alcohol and substance abuse or any addiction, which helps alleviate the uncomfortable feelings associated with trauma.

PTSD can happen as a result of singular traumatic events or through a chronic experiencing of trauma, such as a life of child abuse, or a long-term relationship with an abusive partner, or anomalous trauma.

PTSD Symptoms and Solutions

DepressionTaking Action-Expressing
oneself physically and emotionally
Anger/RageUnloading-Expressing it in a
safe place, in an appropriate way.
IsolationAssertiveness-Challenge fear of
caring and being cared about.
AlienationRisk getting involved.
Survival GuiltTake appropriate
Nightmare &
Sleep Disturbances
Remembering-Bring terror to
the surface.
Intrusive ThoughtsIntrusive Thoughts See the
metaphors. Lighten up.
NumbnessFeel the pain and talk about
it. Grieve.
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