Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD, PTSS)

post-traumatic stress disorder

post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mental disorder that follows an occurrence of extreme psychological stress, such as that encountered in war or resulting from violence, childhood abuse, sexual abuse, or serious accident. The stressful event is usually followed by a period of emotional numbness and denial that can last for months or years. After that period, symptoms such as recurring nightmares, "flashbacks," short-term memory problems, insomnia, or heightened sensitivity to sudden noises may begin. In some cases outbursts of violent behavior have been observed. The usual treatment for PTSD is individual psychotherapy, including anxiety management, or group psychotherapy with others who have the disorder. Some antianxiety and antidepressant drugs are being studied for their effectiveness.

Certain traits (a history of depression, shyness, impulsivity) appear to heighten a person's risk of experiencing PTSD after a traumatic event. In those who do experience it, there is growing evidence that actual physical changes occur in the brain. The hippocampus, a structure that lies deep in the brain and that is associated with memory, has been found to be smaller in PTSD victims. It has been hypothesized that excesses of cortisol, a steroid hormone released during periods of extreme stress, may damage nerve fibers in the area or actually kill the nerve cells. However, the role of cortisol is not completely understood; studies of concentration camp survivors found abnormally low levels of cortisol rather than abnormally high levels.

Post-traumatic stress disorder was referred to as "shell shock" after World War I and as "battle fatigue" after World War II and was traditionally thought of as a condition of war veterans. Studies of Vietnam veterans and Nazi concentration camp survivors have added greatly to the knowledge of PTSD. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (1988) estimated that 31% of the males and 27% of the females who served in the Vietnam War had symptoms of PTSD. Estimates of civilian populations put the rate of PTSD at 10% (women) and 5% (men) in the 15 to 54 age group. Childhood sexual abuse, sexual abuse, and assault are common causes of PTSD in both military and nonmilitary women. In 1989 the U.S. Congress created the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the study and treatment of PTSD.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Neuropsychology of PTSD: Biological, Cognitive, and Clinical Perspectives
Jennifer J. Vasterling; Chris R. Brewin.
Guilford Press, 2005
Treating Psychological Trauma and PTSD
John P. Wilson; Matthew J. Friedman; Jacob D. Lindy.
Guilford Press, 2001
Treatment for PTSD: Clinical Practice Guidelines and Steps toward Further Knowledge
Zeiss, Antonette M.; Batten, Sonja V.
Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, Vol. 49, No. 5, May 2012
Review of Exposure Therapy: A Gold Standard for PTSD Treatment
Rauch, Sheila A. M.; Eftekhari, Afsoon; Ruzek, Josef I.
Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, Vol. 49, No. 5, May 2012
Review of Group Treatment for PTSD
Sloan, Denise M.; Bovin, Michelle J.; Schnurr, Paula P.
Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, Vol. 49, No. 5, May 2012
Advances in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Cognitive-Behavioral Perspectives
Steven Taylor.
Springer, 2004
Empathy in the Treatment of Trauma and PTSD
John P. Wilson; Rhiannon Brwynn Thomas.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004
Thriving in the Wake of Trauma: A Multicultural Guide
Thema Bryant-Davis.
Praeger, 2005
Can Medications Prevent PTSD in Trauma Victims? Extinguishing the Process That Trauma Sets in Motion May Avoid Chronic Anxiety
Bennett, W. R. Murray; Zatzick, Douglas; Roy-Byrne, Peter.
Current Psychiatry, Vol. 6, No. 9, September 2007
Experiential Treatment for PTSD: The Therapeutic Spiral Model
M. Katherine Hudgins.
Springer, 2002
Military-Related PTSD: A Focus on the Symptomatology and Treatment Approaches
Garske, Gregory G.
The Journal of Rehabilitation, Vol. 77, No. 4, October-December 2011
Efficacy of Various Treatments for PTSD in Battered Women: Case Studies
Stapleton, Jennifer A.; Taylor, Steven; Asmundson, Gordon J. G.
Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, Vol. 21, No. 1, April 1, 2007
Childhood Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Diagnosis, Treatment, and School Reintegration
Cook-Cottone, Catherine.
School Psychology Review, Vol. 33, No. 1, Winter 2004
Broken Spirits: The Treatment of Traumatized Asylum Seekers, Refugees, War and Torture Victims
John P. Wilson; Boris Drozdek.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004
Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing
Rachel M. MacNair.
Praeger, 2002
The Trauma of Sexual Assault: Treatment, Prevention, and Practice
Jenny Petrak; Barbara Hedge.
Wiley, 2002
Family Stressors: Interventions for Stress and Trauma
Don R. Catherall.
Brunner Routledge, 2005
Psychological Interventions in Times of Crisis
Laura Barbanel; Robert J. Sternberg.
Springer, 2006
Children and Disasters: A Practical Guide to Healing and Recovery
Wendy N. Zubenko; Joseph Capozzoli.
Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Reaction"
Anxiety and Its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic
David H. Barlow.
Guilford Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder"
Phobic and Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents: A Clinician's Guide to Effective Psychosocial and Pharmacological Interventions
Thomas H. Ollendick; John S. March.
Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Posttraumatic Stress Dissorder"
Psychological Assessment in Clinical Practice: A Pragmatic Guide
Michel Hersen.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Acute and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders"
Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis in Social Work Practice
Jacqueline Corcoran; Joseph Walsh.
Oxford University Press, 2006
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder"
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