Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, most commonly referred to as PTSD, is one of the most most misunderstood psychological conditions. There are many reasons for the lack of understanding, and one of the most basic is simply what the name literally means.

  • Post – In this case, ‘post’ means ‘subsequent to’ or ‘after’
  • Traumatic – Trauma is an injury to your mind or body due to an external force. If you are hit with a stick, you experience physical trauma. If a loud noise scares you, that is a mild form of psychological trauma.
  • Stress – In terms of PTSD, stress refers to mental or emotional strain or tension.
  • Disorder – In relation to PTSD, disorder is a disruption to normal mental or emotional functioning.

Put it altogether and you get a clear definition of PTSD, which is mental and emotional stress, resulting from a physical injury or psychological shock, that is severe enough to disrupt your normal mental and emotional states.

Yet another reason for misunderstandings about PTSD is because it has only relatively recently been recognized as a psychological condition. While mental disorders were linked to traumatic experiences by the ancient Greeks, and the condition was known as ‘shell shock’ through the two World Wars of the twentieth century, the term post-traumatic stress disorder did not come into use until the 1970s following the diagnoses of military veterans of the Vietnam War.

The American Psychological Association officially recognized Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1980. Its early connection to military veterans is also as a source of misunderstanding about the condition. Many current dictionary and encyclopedia definitions and descriptions still reference psychological trauma suffered in ’combat’, ‘warfare’ or other traumatic military experiences, as examples of PTSD.

An artistic representation of mental ailment

Symptoms of PTSD

Generally speaking, while people may experience many of the symptoms listed below following a traumatic event, they are not considered to be signs of post-traumatic stress disorder unless they remain or appear more than one month following the traumatic event.

PTSD symptoms generally fall into one of four categories:

Intrusive memories or memory gaps. These symptoms can include ongoing, unwanted and stressful memories of a traumatic event; flashbacks to the event; dreams and nightmares relating to the trauma; and severe mental, emotional or physical reactions to situations that rekindle the trauma.

The symptoms can also include significant memory gaps for key moments of a traumatic incident or areas associated with the traumatic incident; and general memory gaps that are too extensive to be explained by the normal forgetting of an incident.

Avoidance.  Avoidance symptoms can include trying to avoid talking or thinking about the event, and/or avoiding places, situations or people that trigger memories of the event.

Negative changes in thoughts, mood or emotions. These can include negative thoughts about yourself or others; a sense of hopelessness; loss of memory, especially regarding the trauma; relationship problems; feeling detached from others; lack of interest; and emotional numbness

Arousal or hyperarousal symptoms. Changes in your physical and emotional reactions can be symptoms of PTSD, including being easily startled, a feeling a persistent sense of danger; problems sleeping; difficulty in paying attention or concentrating; irritability; guilt and shame.

If there is another misunderstanding about PTSD, it is in connecting the symptoms to a traumatic event. Symptoms of avoidance and memory suppression can mean that other seemingly unrelated psychological conditions, including anxiety and depression, may be due to PTSD without you being aware of it.

If you feel that you have symptoms of PTSD, or that your symptoms of other psychological conditions may be due to PTSD, please contact us for a no-obligation over-the-phone assessment.

Bruce R. Cook

I have been a practicing mental health professional for the past 26 years and I have worked in various public and private practice settings throughout the GTA and Ontario. The populations that I work with are adults 18-64 and I have extensive experience working with both individuals on various presenting problems, and also as a couples’ therapist.

I am a certified solution-focused therapist, and I integrate a number of theoretical orientations into my practice including cognitive-behavioural, humanistic, psychodynamic, reality focused therapy. In essence, my experience and style have been dynamically moved into an eclectic approach that best seems to fit the client and their personal needs.
Bruce R. Cook