Understanding PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD are clearly outlined in the following article. Where the article veers off track is in talking about treatment. They suggest Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is very popular with insurance companies and the Department of Defense, but provides very little benefit to patients. Somatic Experiencing is far more effective and takes less time without the danger of retraumatization found in CBT. ~L. Kessler

PTSD, trauma, somatic experiencing, healing trauma, trauma healingUnderstanding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
by Jesse Jayne Rutherford and Kathleen Nickerson, Ph.D.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that results from an event in which severe physical harm occurred, or was threatened, or where the person witnessed physical harm or a severe threat to a loved one. In military veterans, PTSD is also called “combat stress.” PTSD can be found in refugees from war-torn areas, rape victims, people who have lived through natural disasters or terrible accidents, victims of violent crime, and children who have been abused or witnessed abuse. It can also result from severe psychological/emotional trauma.

PTSD Symptoms and Diagnosis

PTSD is characterized by the following symptoms, which are used as criteria for diagnosis:

  • Exposure to a traumatic event
  • Intrusive memories of the event (flashbacks)
  • Avoidance (the child avoids triggers or stimuli associated with the traumatic event)
  • Decreased general responsiveness (the child feels detached, sees a bleak future or early death, is uninterested in participating in significant activities)
  • Hyper-arousal (is hyper-vigilant, startles easily, has trouble falling asleep, difficulty concentrating)

The symptoms above interfere with normal functioning.

As you can see, these symptoms make abstract thought difficult. It’s very hard for a child exposed to trauma to concentrate and do well on schoolwork, so she shouldn’t be punished for bad grades. These symptoms also must persist for more than a month in order to meet the criteria for diagnosis. Note that it is common for the symptoms to begin several months after the traumatic event.


The most effective proven treatment for PTSD is therapy, specifically cognitive therapy. Group therapy is also effective; teens may benefit greatly from sharing with other teens who have had similar experiences, though this may not be feasible with young children. Medication has also been shown to have an effect, though it is rare for medication to cure PTSD on its own. Make sure any medication prescribed for a child has been approved for children. As with any treatment program, ask to see a track record for the recommended treatment course, and verify that the people running the program are licensed professionals following a proven plan.

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