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Ted Olsen

Many people will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in their life. Recent

statistics from the National Center for PTSD have shown as many as 7 to 8 people in every 100

will experience PTSD in their lifetime.

Experience Psychology defines PTSD as an anxiety disorder that develops by exposure

to a traumatic event, a severely oppressive situation, cruel abuse, or a natural or unnatural

disaster. Most people recover naturally after stress or trauma but those who continue to

experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. With a disease that affects so many there are

increasing amounts of research going on to find new treatments and also ways to prevent PTSD


Onset of PTSD can occur from many different stimuli. Not all cases of PTSD occur

because of a dangerous event; some people develop PTSD from an unexpected or sudden

experience like the death of a family member. Symptoms usually display early after the

traumatic incident but can also take months to years to present. For PTSD to be diagnosed,

symptoms must occur for longer than a month and interfere with daily life. (NHA, 2016)

Criterion for diagnosis must include at least one repeating symptom, one avoidance

symptom, two arousal and reactivity symptoms, and two cognition and mood symptoms.

Reexperiencing symptoms include flashbacks or reliving the trauma, including the physical

symptoms involved, such as racing heart or sweating. Other symptoms include bad dreams or

frightening thoughts.

Avoidance symptoms include staying away from places, people, objects or blocking and

avoiding emotions that can cause the feelings and flashbacks of the traumatic experience to

resurface. Arousal and reactivity symptoms include easy startling, feelings of tension, difficulty

sleeping, and outbursts with anger. Daily tasks become difficult because many of the symptoms

interfere with daily life making it difficult to function properly in society.

Cognition and mood symptoms include issue with remembering events, especially the

traumatic event, depression and negative thoughts about others or self, feeling guilty or blaming

self for related events or the traumatic event, and loss of interest in enjoyed activities. Many of

these symptoms are shared with other anxiety disorders; however, PTSD symptoms make it

difficult for sufferers to become better because they distance themselves from loved ones who

can provide very important support and help.

Recent research has determined that there are risk factors that determine the likelihood of

developing PTSD (NIH, 2016). It can be caused by war, abuse, assault, disaster, or even seeing a

friend or family member experience trauma. Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD

and genes can also predispose individuals to develop of the disorder. Some aspects that

determine an individual's ability to resist the development of PTSD include: seeking support

from family, friends or groups after trauma, preparing strategies to cope and learn from events or

trauma, and positive self-esteem about decisions an individual makes.

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and risk factors are only part of a larger picture. An

important and most researched aspect of PTSD is the treatment. Primary treatment is medication

used in conjunction with psychotherapy. The medication most commonly used in treatment of

PTSD are antidepressants. Mark Sears, a pharmacist at the Outpatient Pharmacy at the

University of Utah Hospital, was interviewed and compared different types of mood disorder

medications. (Sears, 2017) Those he recommended were Prazosin which helps reduce

nightmares in PTSD patients. Why it functions this way is unknown. Selective Serotonin

Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the primary medications to treat the symptoms of depression.

Sertraline and Fluoxetine are used primarily in patients with high anxiety cases. Other SSRIs are

used in patients that exhibit typical symptoms of depression. In extreme cases antipsychotic

medications can be used but are rarely prescribed in regular cases.

Psychotherapy is the most important aspect of healing. The focus of therapy can differ on

what aspect of PTSD are being addressed; some focus on the symptoms directly while others put

focus on social, family, or job-related problems. The focus of most therapies include education,

identification, and management of symptoms. Another aspect of healing is centered around

exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. Exposure therapy focuses on helping people face

fears through gradual exposure to those fears. It uses pictures, writings, sounds, and even visiting

areas of trauma to help remove the fear and allow individuals to gain control over those feelings.

Cognitive restructuring helps people realize the bad memories they have of the trauma and

change them into being able to look at the trauma with a realistic and focused mindset.

Recent studies have started conducting psychotherapy sessions with the addition of

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine or MDMA, a psychoactive drug whose street name is ecstasy.

Researchers have found improvement in exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring when

using MDMA. Patients have been able to overcome PTSD that had previously had poor results

while using therapy alone. These studies are moving into the 3rd phases of the FDA clinical

trials and with the improvement being extremely positive and replicated across the country and

world (Phillips, 2016). Hopefully as more research is discovered and treatments are fined tuned

this process can be used more actively to help additional patients overcome debilitating diseases.

A knowledge of PTSD can be important to anyone because all individuals experience

stress and trauma and being able to establish resistances can possibly prevent it. In the case of

first responders; like police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians; research has

shown that there are fewer diagnoses in these individuals that are exposed to trauma and stress

on a daily basis. Multiple studies have been conducted on first responders and the rate of PTSD

(Pietrantoni, 2008), (Yasien, 2016). The results of these studies have found similar results. They

found first responders have an increased buffer against development based on self-efficacy,

collective efficacy, sense of community and high levels of compassion satisfaction.

Self-efficacy is a persons ability to set goals, obtain them, and have positivity around the

outcome of an event that is contrary to their goal. Collective efficacy is self-efficacy on a

community level. It stems from a group having set goals and working together to accomplish

them. Most first responders are usually in the field of work because of their attachment to

community but as these attachments get better and as they perfect self and collective efficacy

their ability to combat against PTSD gets stronger.

PTSD affects many and for those who do not gain control of their symptoms it can

become debilitating and even fatal. Knowing symptoms, treatments options and being able to

prepare yourself as much as possible with positive attributes can help prevent and overcome the

trauma and stress that we encounter everyday without developing the disorder. As time

progresses it will be interesting to watch what researchers discover about genes and

predisposition of PTSD. As well as if MDMA can pass FDA approval as a preferred treatment

option. Hopefully through science debilitating PTSD can be a disease of the past.


King, L. Experience Psychology (3rd Ed.), McGraw Hill Publishers. 2017.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (2016 Feb.)
Retrieved from:

Pietrantoni, L; Prati G. (2008, Dec 8). Resilience among first responders.African Health
Sciences. v. 8: S14 - S20.

Philipps, Dave. (2016, Nov 29) F.D.A. Agrees to New Trials for Ecstasy as Relief for PTSD
Patients. The New York Times.

Sears, M. PharmD, Personal Interview. (2017 Nov.)

Wilker, S et al. The Role of Memory-related Gene WWC1 (KIBRA) in Lifetime Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder: Evidence from Two Independent Samples from African Conflict Regions.
Biological Psychiatry. February, 22, 2013.

Yasien, S., Nasir, Jamal, Shaheen, Shaheen, T.; Relationship Between Psychological Distress
and Resilience in Rescue Workers (2016, July). Saudi Medical Journal. v. 37(7), 778-782