Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also commonly known as PTSD is characterised by a set of distressing symptoms which set in following a terrifying event or series of events. Psychologists and victims alike describe the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, as falling into two broad classes.

Firstly, people often re-live repeated memories of the actual event that terrorised them. Second, they may feel a series of symptoms associated with a sense of denial; an experience of numbing or ‘not being quite there’. Usually these types of symptoms (intrusion and denial) are experienced in cycles, often moving rapidly from one to another.


If you have experienced serious trauma or have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you may be familiar with these feelings that can arise in the aftermath. For some people, these symptoms take a hold of their psyche over time, leaving them vulnerable to periods of frightening thoughts which intrude on them, and often periods where they might lose their sense of themselves; a feeling of numbing. Trauma counselling by Counsellors and Psychologists who familiar with these symptoms can assist victims of trauma to recover from the impact of their ordeal. (This article is electronically protected - Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)


PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder first came to the attention of psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors when war veterans returning from active service showed these symptoms. Previously referred to as shell shock, it was thought to be related to war trauma exclusively. It quickly became evident that any number of life threatening ordeals could bring on the same set of symptoms. For example, common triggers for PTSD include car accidents, being a victims of an armed robbery, being mugged or assaulted, raped or tortured, to being a victim in a natural disaster including flooding, landslides, tsunami and so on. So long as your life is threatened or someone you love is at risk you may become subject to symptoms which can later lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


The real life experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be devastating for its sufferers. Psychologists and counsellors often hear the symptoms described as living in a nightmare; and it is often quite literally the case.
People experience gruesome recollections during the day, often occurring when they are feeling otherwise relaxed. For the sufferer, it feels as if the trauma was happening again right here and now. Many people describe being able to smell or hear or see things from the original trauma in their re-experience of the event.

Flashback episodes can last from seconds, to minutes and in some cases hours. People may react in ways that they are not conscious of; for instance, a war trauma survivor might flee and drive off in a hurry at the sound of a helicopter overhead. Hours later the victim may find themselves in another location, having ‘lost time’.

Some sufferers experience nightmares which wake them from sleep. This can lead to a fear of going to bed at night, feeling depressed, easily startled or shocked and increasingly numb the rest of the time. Many people try and avoid any reminders of the event. Moreover, the anniversary of trauma can bring on a set of intrusive symptoms.


Living with such burdensome symptoms puts many people on edge; they may find it hard to maintain their loving relationships, may become agitated and aggressive, untrusting and angry and they may begin to isolate themselves. Many people turn to alcohol or drugs for relief. Offcourse these avoidance behaviours do not help the symptoms, and usually make people feel much worse, especially in the long run. It is often the case that such avoidance behaviours block people’s natural process in coming to terms with the event. If you are trying to cope using these behaviours and feel you cannot manage without them, you should contact a qualified counsellor or psychologist as soon as possible.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  (PTSD) can begin at any time from childhood onwards. There are many complexities that go into whether a person who experiences a trauma begins to suffer symptoms. It is thought that whether or not a person’s actions contributed to the event that brought about the trauma may be a factor in the onset of symptoms afterwards. For instance, making one decision over another which then leads to an accident, or an assault.

It is important to note, that trauma doesn’t necessarily lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder  (PTSD). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is only diagnosed if persons experience symptoms for a month or more. Also, it is usually diagnosed only three months after the traumatic event which triggered the symptoms. Another condition, called Acute Stress Response may be diagnosed if a victim is showing symptoms sometime within the first three months after a trauma. If these symptoms continue to develop, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder may be diagnosed.
(This article is electronically protected - Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)


Whilst you should avoid self-diagnosis, the following symptoms can be useful in beginning a discussion with a professional counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. The person has been involved in or witnessed a traumatic event in which involved a death or a threat of death or serious injury to themselves or others and the person experienced intense fear, horror or helplessnes. The trauma is then persistently re-experienced including one or more of the following symptoms (intrusive symptoms):

• recurring and intrusive upsetting recollections of the traumatic event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions.

• recurring distressing dreams or nightmares of the trauma.

• behaving or feeling as if the trauma was recurring in the moment (which may include a re-living of the event, experiencing illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashbacks).

• severe distress at being exposed to internal cues (eg memories) or external cues that resemble an aspect of the trauma

The person also avoids any of the cues or resemblances associated with the original trauma and there is a numbing of one’s general response (which was not there before the trauma), including three or more of these symptoms (avoidance or numbing symptoms):

• making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or topics associated with the trauma
• making efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that lead to memories of the trauma

• not being able to remember an important aspect of the event

• having a decreased interest or involvement in significant activities

• feeling detached or disconnected from others

• ‘feeling-less-able-to-feel-things’, like loving someone having a sense that one’s future is foreshortened And, the person has continued symptoms of increased arousal  as indicated by two or more of these symptoms:

• trouble falling or staying asleep

• feeling irritable or having angry outbursts

• trouble concentrating

• hypervigilance (being one the look out)

• being easily startled

These symptoms taken together must have lasted for at least a month, and interfered with your normal social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Contact Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney for further information on trauma counselling for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No. 95-3879 (1995)

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