Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and 911 (cont.)

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Defining posttraumatic stress disorder

PTSD, as such, has been a part of organized psychiatry for only the past twenty years. The concept of PTSD, however, has been well known for over a hundred years under a variety of different names. Certainly, Freud thought that traumatic events in childhood had an effect on an individual's subsequent emotional development. Actually, however, it was his contemporary, Pierre Janet, who wrote most brilliantly and eloquently on traumatic stress. In fact, he was really the first person to describe the full syndrome (group of symptoms) of posttraumatic stress disorder.

During World War I, PTSD was called shell shock, and during WW II, it was referred to as combat fatigue. After the Vietnam War, it was often mistakenly called the Post Vietnam Syndrome. Indeed, the understanding and effective treatment of PTSD were actually described in the psychiatric literature well before the Vietnam War. A psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Eric Lindemann at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was the first to report on the systematic management of PTSD. He did this work after the Coconut Grove fire and tragedy in the 1940's.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is defined in terms of the trauma itself and the person's response to the trauma. Trauma occurs when a person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with a terrible event that is an actual occurrence. Alternatively, the person may have been threatened with a terrible event, perhaps injury (physical or psychological) or death to themselves or others. Then, the person's response to the event or to the threat involves intense fear, helplessness, and/or horror.

It is important to note, however, that having strong reactions to trauma is normal. What's more, there is a range (spectrum) of expected reactions depending on a person's prior exposure to trauma and even on hereditary (genetic) factors. Most importantly, you should understand that there are efficient and effective treatments for PTSD.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/19/2015