You are not broken and in need of fixing. You are wounded and in need of healing.

Danu Morrigan

Understanding PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after exposure to an event involving actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence. It can develop whether the event happened directly to you or if you witnessed it occurring to others.

Examples of traumatic events can include:

  • Natural disasters, such as floods, bushfires, or earthquakes.
  • Serious accidents or physical injury.
  • Major motor vehicle accidents.
  • Sexual assault or rape.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Witnessing a violent death or murder.
  • War or being under attack.
  • Experiencing a traumatic birth.

About 4% of Australians will experience PTSD. Women are more prone to developing PTSD, as are emergency service workers and military personnel.

Effective treatments are available for PTSD, and recovery is possible with the right help.


Causes of PTSD

Current thinking is that when you are exposed to a traumatic event, the brain becomes overwhelmed, and memories become stored in the part of the brain involving “immediate action” rather than the usual place for memories. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will get PTSD, and it is believed that in these people, the brain becomes accustomed to the memories, so they are no longer as vivid. The memories experienced by people with PTSD can be as distressing as when the event first happened.

What’s it like to have PTSD?

People who have PTSD might experience the following symptoms:

  • Recurrent intrusive and distressing memories of the event.
  • Flashbacks.
  • Nightmares.
  • Intense distress when things remind them of the event.
  • Physical symptoms like heart palpitations or sweating.
  • Avoidance of anything that could remind them of the event.
  • Blaming themselves or others.
  • Feeling fearful, horrified, irritable, angry, detached, guilty or shameful.
  • Not feeling interested in doing or participating in important activities.
  • Finding it hard to have positive feelings like love and happiness.
  • Feeling watchful or hypervigilant.

PTSD can cause intense distress and can make day-to-day living very difficult. If you think you may have PTSD, it is important to seek help as soon as possible, as effective treatment is available.


Diagnosis of PTSD

Exposure to a traumatic event would normally make a person feel upset or distressed. These emotions can continue for a couple of weeks after the event, and during this time, receiving emotional and practical support is most helpful. It is also important to stay connected with others who care about you.

If after a few weeks you are still not coping, then you may have developed PTSD, and it is important that you see your GP to assess your symptoms and refer you to a psychiatrist if needed.

Treatment and management of PTSD

Conventional treatments for PTSD

The most effective treatment for PTSD is considered to be psychological intervention (talking therapy). If psychological treatment is not an option or is not helping on its own, then medication may be used.

Psychological therapy

The following are types of evidence-based psychological interventions in PTSD:

  • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this type of therapy aims to help you cope with the traumatic event by sensitively working through your emotions and sensations associated with the event until you feel less distressed. It is important to tell your therapist if you are feeling overwhelmed rather than leaving treatment.
  • Eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) – this is an evidence-based therapy where the therapist will ask you to make eye movements from side to side whilst focusing on the traumatic event. The thinking behind this is that EMDR ‘reprocesses’ the traumatic memories to the part of the brain where normal memories are stored.


Medications can be used for PTSD, with the most common type being an antidepressant, usually a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Sleeping tablets (or sedatives) are sometimes prescribed in the short term if you are having trouble sleeping.

Complementary treatments for PTSD

In addition to conventional treatments, a personalised integrative treatment plan may include mind and body practices, such as sleep hygiene, exercise, mindfulness, meditation, relaxation practices, acupuncture, nutraceuticals and nutritional interventions.

Recovery from PTSD

With treatment, around half of people with PTSD will return to their usual selves within 3 months. For others, symptoms can last for more than a year. A smaller proportion of people experience some long-term symptoms.

Following treatment, it is important to have a recovery plan in place, as it is possible for PTSD symptoms to return following a particular trigger or reminder of the event. Having a recovery plan involving the help of your therapist will assist in managing symptoms of relapse and continue to support your recovery.