2014-03-14 16.58.24Perusing the internet for potential topics for this blog, I came across a list of awareness topics by date and month. I saw listed for June the following topics: AIDS Awareness month, Children’s Awareness month, Father’s Day month, Student Safety Awareness month, Gay and Lesbian Pride month, and National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day. While all of these topics are important and relevant to Couple and Family therapy, I am going to focus on National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day on June 27, 2014. By no means am I an expert in this area, rather I am embracing the opportunity to use this blog post to further my education and knowledge about PTSD.  I was fortunate enough to take a course on Trauma and Addiction that started my education on trauma and PTSD (Thanks fellow MAD-AAMFT Member Wendy Wilcox!).

Traumatic events occur more often than one thinks. Over 60% of men and over half of all women experience at least one traumatic event, which means most people you meet probably have experienced a traumatic event (National Center for PTSD, 2013). I had not realized trauma was so prevalent in individual, couple, or family’s lives. Before studying the topic, my knowledge of individuals with PTSD was limited to soldiers and veterans. My scope and assumption were narrow on the prevalence of trauma in everyday life. I also think it is important to note that not every person who experiences trauma develops PTSD. Only about 7% of all people develop PTSD in their lifetime (National Center for PTSD, 2013). The systemic study of the human response to trauma and traumatic stress are fairly new stemming from the aftermath of the Vietnam War (Briere & Scott, 2013). The term posttraumatic stress disorder did not appear in the mental health world until the mid-1980s.

Stress can be caused by a myriad of different things like doing your graduate school homework, paying the bills, losing a loved one or job, or positive events like getting married. Traumatic stressors are different because they are events in which someone feels their life or the lives of others are threatened (National Center for PTSD, 2013). These traumatic stressors can be witnessed or experienced directly. Examples of major types of trauma are child abuse, mass interpersonal violence, natural disasters, fire and burns, rape and sexual assault, motor vehicle accidents, large-scale transportation accidents, intimate partner violence, stranger physical assault, war, torture, sex trafficking, witnessing or being confronted with the homicide or suicide of another person, murder, suicide, or life-threatening medical conditions (Briere & Scott, 2013). These events are not always independent of one another, but that also does not imply experiencing one type of traumatic event will increase the likelihood of another. It is also important to consider for some people stressful events like losing a partner or having a partner cheat might be worse than some traumatic events, but that doesn’t necessarily result in PTSD.

For the DSM-5 diagnosis for PTSD, you need one of these specific types of trauma exposure:

• Directly experiencing a traumatic event, such as being in combat or a hurricane.

• Witnessing an event that happened to someone else, such as seeing a serious car accident.

• Learning about a traumatic event that happened to friends or family, such as learning about the homicide or suicide of a family member. (Having a family member die of natural causes does not qualify).

• Or, experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of traumatic events such as collecting human remains after combat or terrorist attacks (National Center for PTSD, 2013).

This diagnosis is for adults, adolescents, and children over the age of 6. Along with the type of trauma experienced, a diagnosis of PTSD requires a combination of symptoms from specific symptom clusters: re-experiencing, avoidance, negative alterations in cognition or mood, and hyperarousal (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These symptoms must be present for more than one month and must cause significant distress or impairment. While I have not had a course yet on DSM-5 diagnosis, I believe it is important to know and understand the criteria outlined for the disorder to know what to look for because maybe what you thought was once a consideration or factor might not be one now.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Briere, J.N. & Scott, C. (2013). Principles of trauma therapy. A guide to symptoms, evaluation, and treatment (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

VA National Center for PTSD. (2013, March). PTSD 101 Course: Epidemiology of PTSD. Podcast retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/m/Professional/PTSD_101/Transcripts/epidemiology.pdf.

Elizabeth M. Brown
MAD-AAMFT Student Member
Couple and Family Therapy Graduate Student Intern
University of Maryland, College Park


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