How to Identify PTSD Symptoms, According to a Therapist

Published on: 17 Oct 2019
Clinically Reviewed by Cynthia V. Catchings LCSW-S
displaying PTSD symptoms

Panic attacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, depression, and insomnia are all common symptoms of PTSD, but one of the most characteristic and debilitating symptoms of PTSD involves “flashbacks,” the feeling of re-experiencing a traumatic event.

Talkspace therapist Christine Tolman shares that, “PTSD has three main symptoms. If you find yourself experiencing nightmares, flashbacks to a traumatic incident, or an increase in your awareness more than six months following a traumatic event, it is probably a good idea to speak to a professional.” The condition can develop in anyone who has experienced a dangerous, shocking, or life-threatening event such as war, rape, childhood abuse, or a serious accident. Often times, PTSD sufferers might also develop depression.

Warning Signs of PTSD: According to our Therapists

Just because someone has experienced something traumatic, doesn’t mean they will suffer from PTSD. There are other anxiety conditions in the same realm to be aware of, like Acute Stress Disorder.

It can be beneficial to know the warning signs of PTSD, so we spoke with Talkspace Therapists — Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT; Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S; and Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, CFTP — to compile a list of symptoms, red flags that you or someone you love might be struggling with PTSD. These signs include:

  • Frequent/intense nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts/memories of the event
  • Dissociation
  • Hypervigilance
  • Irritability
  • Feeling on guard
  • Avoidance of people, places, or situations
  • Flashback of the event or intrusive memories about the traumatic event
  • Feeling numb or detached from the world
  • Inability to stop thinking about or relieving the situation
  • Physical symptoms — sweating hands, palpitations, or stomach ache — when found in a situation that reminds you of a traumatic event

While PTSD can be a debilitating condition — in some cases taking years for the survivor to be stable and healthy enough to process the trauma — with appropriate treatment it can be successfully overcome.

Understanding what’s happening in your brain during a PTSD flashback can help you learn strategies to cope. You can work with a therapist to identify triggers for your flashbacks. Learning these symptoms and warning signs of PTSD is a great first step in getting help, or helping a loved one.

Seeking Treatment for PTSD

Consulting a therapist can be a great first step in determining the best treatment for you, or a loved one. An experienced therapist can guide you and provide further education around cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT], eye movement and desensitization and reprocessing therapy [EMDR], and other common options for those suffering with PTSD and traumatic stress. If you’re ready to start talking to a therapist today, give online therapy a try.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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