Trauma-Related Disorders: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & Acute Stress Disorder Video

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  • 0:07 History
  • 1:11 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • 4:07 Acute Stress Disorder
  • 5:09 Treatment
  • 7:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

A lot happens in the brain following a traumatic, life threatening event. Sometimes the brain has difficulty managing the stress and can be caught in a loop known as post-traumatic stress disorder, which will be discussed in this lesson along with acute stress disorder.

History of PTSD

History is full of bizarre reports. Ancient soldiers would go blind despite no physical injury. Shakespeare wrote of maladies afflicting warriors and kings, where their mind began to churn and broil without any injury. In the U.S. Civil War, many of the soldiers coming home had difficulties in the field or returning to their normal lives. They were said to have 'soldiers' heart.'

World War I was a trench war, and there was a constant bombardment from cannons and shells. It was hypothesized that tiny pieces of sand were entering the body, and so the description of 'shell shock' was used. Following World War II, many of these soldiers came home and continued to suffer from 'battle fatigue' or 'combat exhaustion.' Similar cases occurred following the Vietnam War as well.

All of the descriptions of all of these maladies, conditions, and syndromes match up with what has been labeled post-traumatic stress disorder. Let's look at the diagnosis and the cause, and then we will look at possible treatment options.

PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, usually shortened to PTSD, is a mental disorder characterized by:

  • Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence
  • Presence of intrusive symptoms following the exposure
  • Persistent avoidance of similar situations or traumatic events
  • Deterioration of cognition and mood
  • Fluctuating arousal and reactivity levels

This is a brief run-through of the basic diagnostic criteria of PTSD, but what does it mean, though?

Exposure can come in many forms, such as being a soldier in war, being the victim of a mugging, living through a natural disaster, or even just viewing any of these things. Exposure doesn't necessarily mean that the person actually had to be in the situation; they just needed to be exposed to it. What this exposure seems to be doing is looping the brain into a fight-or-flight reaction. Many of the symptoms, which we will discuss in a moment, are the body and mind overreacting to a threat that is no longer there.

After the exposure, the brain is replaying the event on some subconscious level. It's like the brain is stuck back in that moment in some ways. This leads to intrusive symptoms like recurrent dreams and flashbacks of the event. Worse is the dissociation that occurs, which is defined as a process of separating from reality. This is where the person believes they are back in the war, where they see the enemies around them. It is entirely real to them in that moment.

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