Lauren Stevenson, PsyD., Director
Pasadena, CA

Capstone Psychological Services

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

​PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people develop after seeing or living through a dangerous event.

When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in PTSD, this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms:​
  • Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.
​2. Avoidance symptoms:
  • Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:​
  • Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.

It’s natural to have some of these symptoms after a dangerous event. Sometimes people have very serious symptoms that go away after a few weeks. This is called acute stress disorder, or ASD. When the symptoms last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, they might be PTSD.

​                                    (National Institute of Mental Health)

Treatment Approach

​CBT for anxiety disorders, such as PTSD, aims to help a person develop a more adaptive response to a fear. The focus is on helping the client identify the thought patterns that sustain the feeling of anxiety, while helping them change the way they react to anxiety provoking situations. The goals is not to eliminate anxiety, as anxiety is an important emotion that alerts us to danger - but rather, to help people learn how to accurately interpret situations and to no longer avoid situations that make them uncomfortable, especially when such situations are vital to daily life, such as driving, going to work, being in public places, or interacting socially with others.​

National Institute of Mental Health Link

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)