PTSD Overview

Trauma symptoms are partially a brain thing. Neurobiological mechanism effects, pathobiology, brain dysfunctions (hippocampus) – these are detectable and not yet fully understood.

The type of trauma matters. Witnessing the traumatic death of a family member, friend, or colleague or other traumatic loss-related PTSD may need additional effort and care by client and counselor.

The core PTSD symptoms are intrusions, hyperarousal (quickly getting upset), avoidance, and sleep disturbances.

Intrusions can include involuntary, distressing images, thoughts, memories, dreams, nightmares; experiencing the trauma as reoccurring; dissociating (emotionally/mentally departing) in response to suggestion of, or experience of, recurrence; involuntary psychological distress; involuntary physiological distress.

Trauma symptoms include dysfunctional cognitive appraisal (including catastrophizing and miscalculating probabilities), i.e. seeing things as more threatening than they really are (or, less often seeing things as less threatening than they really are).

Trauma symptoms often occur with other mental health challenges, creating diagnostic complexity/comorbidity with potential co-influence.

Trauma symptoms are exacerbated by psychosocial stressors.

Elevated trauma-related emotions include fear, anger, guilt, shame, disgust, sadness, and helplessness.

Primary problematic emotion-behavior interactions can include acting on impulse, explosion, and substance use.

Through problematic behavior and perception (“I have been made different and no longer belong”), individuals may experience loss of psychosocial systems and institutions that support psychological well-being and mental health.

For reducing trauma symptoms, what’s likely to be the most effective, non-pharmacological, outside-of-session intervention that directly helps the brain – after identifying and challenging problematic beliefs and practicing overall self-care – is exercise.

Early termination from treatment (dropout) occurs. Treatment retention increases the likelihood of symptom reduction.

This video helps explain the practical implications of the findings from brain science about trauma and the role of avoidance in perpetuating trauma symptoms.


Learn more about trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder on the site of the National Center for PSTD.

This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.