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What Exactly is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

What Exactly is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?


What exactly is post-traumatic stress disorder?

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[Lt. Col. Philip Holcombe] PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. We can determine what it is fairly quickly by just breaking down the words. So it's a medical label, and the post-traumatic stress part has to do with following—it's a series of symptoms that follow—a traumatic event. And when we say a traumatic event, we're talking about an event that is overwhelming, and it's so overwhelming that it can disrupt a person's core sense of safety and how they see the world. So events might include anything from combat stress, in which soldiers are fighting for their lives, fighting for the lives of their friends, fighting for their country. And it can also include a particularly bad car accident, in which maybe somebody loses a significant part of their self or they lose a family member. It can include certainly things like sexual traumas. So there are a host of traumas that are included, but the core is that the trauma is so profound that it impacts the way the person functions. And so that brings us to the disorder portion. When we say disorder, what we mean is that the person's ability to fulfill their life in some way or another is dramatically impacted. So that may be functioning in social environments, functioning within the family, functioning in terms of interacting with peers—with friends. It can mean occupational functioning, the ability to do the job that they once were able to do and maybe do quite well. It could mean emotional functioning, that ability to control one's emotional responses. So it's the functioning problems are related to the trauma so you have post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine.

Lt. Col. Philip Holcombe, PhDLt. Col. Philip Holcombe, PhD, Lt. Col. Philip Holcombe is an Army psychologist who serves as the chief of Clinical Recommendations at the Deployment Health Clinical Center at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

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