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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)



What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  (PTSD)?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD, refers to a set of stress reactions that can develop in people who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events during which they encounter feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror.  Such events can include physical or sexual assaults, car or other serious accidents, natural disasters such as bushfires or floods, or military combat experiences.


Difference between normal stress reactions and PTSD?

Fear is a natural and healthy response to a life-threatening situation and it is normal to experience shock, anxiety, sadness and a feeling of disconnection following a traumatic experience.  While extreme distress is common, most survivors experience a gradual lifting of symptoms over the days or weeks following the trauma and they eventually recover without the need for intervention.  A small percentage of survivors do however go on to develop PTSD after a traumatic incident.

When a trauma survivor develops PTSD, the fear, anxiety and traumatic memories persist for a long period of time.  Trauma symptoms can be chronic and disabling, impacting relationships and potentially interfering with the survivors’ ability to function in daily life. 

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD usually develop within the first 3 months following a traumatic event, but sometimes symptoms may not appear until years after the trauma.  Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person and may include:

Re-experiencing symptoms

  • Intrusive, upsetting thoughts and memories of the event

  • Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)

  • Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)

  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma

  • Intense physical reactions to reminders or triggers of the event

       (e.g. racing heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)

PTSD Symptoms

Avoidance and numbing symptoms


  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma

  • Inability to recall some aspects of the trauma

  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general

  • Feeling emotionally numb or a detachment from others

  • Hopelessness about the future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)


Hyperarousal symptoms

  • Sleep disruptions

  • Irritability or angry outbursts

  • Hypervigilance (a constant state of “red alert”)

  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

  • Aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behavior


Negative thoughts & mood changes

  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame

  • Feeling alienated and alone

  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal

  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

  • Depression and hopelessness

What is PTSD

PTSD symptoms can vary in intensity over time. You may have increased PTSD symptoms during times of high stress, or when you experience traumatic triggers or reminders of what you went through. For example, a news report about sexual assault or sexual abuse might contribute to you feeling flooded by memories of your own assault.  A person with a history of war trauma or military combat might relive experiences after hearing a car backfire in the street. 

When to seek help?

If you have disturbing thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event that persist for four weeks or more, and experience difficulty resuming your normal activities, reconnecting to others and feeling safe again, you may be suffering from PTSD.   If this is the case, it is important to reach out to your GP or mental health professional for support and treatment. 


Treatment options and Therapy for PTSD

It is never too early or late to access therapy following a traumatic experience or when beginning to experience PTSD symptomology.  Therapy or counselling by an experienced trauma specialist can assist survivors to make sense of their traumatic experiences and feelings, manage their symptoms, learn healthy coping skills and facilitate trauma processing. 

Danni Murfett at Sexual Trauma Counselling Perth is a trauma- informed therapist with clinical experience working with survivors of sexual and war traumas.  She is trained in a range of evidence-based therapeutic modalities that are proven to successfully treat PTSD, either as a primary or adjunct treatment method.  These include:

  • Cognitive behavior Therapy (CBT)

  • Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE)

  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)


-Karen Salansohn -

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