Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by excessive feelings of fearfulness and tension, and avoidance of stimuli that trigger memories of severely stressful events. The person with PTSD may have disturbances in sensory function and may re-experience the stressful events in a more realistic way than is typical for most memories.

PTSD can only be given as a diagnosis if the person has demonstrably experienced one or more events in which he or she has been in danger of serious injury or death, or has credibly believed him or herself to have been in danger of serious injury or death. Examples would be having been in a serious car wreck or having been physically assaulted or having directly watched someone else being assaulted.

Children and teens who suffer from PTSD typically have great difficulty sleeping restfully and their excessive startle responses interfere with their ability to concentrate on ordinary tasks. These children may cling to adults and avoid separating even when it is necessary to do so. They are likely to become increasingly uncomfortable in new settings and situations and may demonstrate disorganized and regressive behaviors when they move to a new school, home or neighborhood.

Children with PTSD sometimes develop peculiar obsessive habits that serve to reduce their anxiety and give them a sense of security or safety.

What to do about the Symptoms of PTSD:

1. Seek appropriate counseling supports for the child and yourself in dealing with the symptoms. Children who are accurately diagnosed with PTSD often require extended periods of treatment in order to significantly resolve the symptoms. In some cases anti-anxiety medication may help, so consult with a pediatrician or pediatric psychiatrist. Useful counseling interventions include cognitive-behavioral desensitization techniques, hypnosis and related interventions, and supportive/expressive therapies.

2. Provide the child with as calm and structured an environment as possible. Quiet and predictability are extremely important in helping these children grow more comfortable and trusting of the world again. Avoid unnecessary noise, remodeling, moving and above all, marked fighting or interpersonal conflict in the home. It is especially important to prevent any additional trauma, so make sure that the child is kept safe in your home and do not take risks in exposing the child to physical or sexual aggression from other children in the home.

3. Provide the child with reassurance that they will be able to manage their symptoms and improve over time. It is important to recognize and remind the child of their own improvements even when they make only small steps. Focus on helping the child increase his or her ability to self-soothe and to calm when upset, particularly when the child is upset by a traumatic trigger.

Copyright 2005-2010 by Edward L. Coyle, Ph.D. All rights reserved. May be reproduced only for personal use and may not be distributed without written permission under penalty of law.
Log In
Useful Community Links

Digital Sucess Tools
American Psychological Association
National Institute of Mental Health