5 Important Stages of PTSD And How to Treat Them

The word PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) came into use during 1970. That doesn’t mean symptoms and stages of PTSD were not known before. But it was mostly related to the soldiers involved in wars. Now the public is more aware of several stages of PTSD, and its risk factor is being talked about. 

6 out of 10 men and 5 out of 10 women face at least one form of trauma in their lifetime. During a given year about 8 million adults have PTSD symptoms.

We are going to further discuss symptoms, treatments, high-risk groups, and various stages of PTSD.

1. First, What is PTSD?

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental disorder that develops after witnessing or self-experiencing traumatic events such as warfare violence, sexual assault, child abuse – especially bullying which is more common, tragic accidents, natural calamities – earthquake, tsunami, etc. Trauma survivors suffer from various stages of PTSD.

2. Groups that Are in The High-Risk Factor Zone

  • Soldiers in a warfare zone
  • Doctors & Nurses working in war-zone
  • Fire Department Personals
  • Emergency services workers
  • Sexual assault victims
  • Child abuse victims
  • Victims of tragic traffic accidents
  • Victims of severe natural calamities
  • Difficult pregnancy
  • Victims of abductions
  • Other traumatic events survivors

3. Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can last from one or two months to few years, depends upon the severity of trauma. Here are some of the symptoms but it can be something entirely different depending on the victims.

  • Psychological symptoms – flashbacks, nightmares, fear, anger, guilt, trust issues, suicidal tendency lack of self-esteem, depression1, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Behavioral symptoms – extreme distress, irritation on slight provocation, avoid social gatherings, abrupt reactions, jumpiness, extra vigilant.
  • Mood swings – over-emotional, lack of any emotions, feeling cut-off from everyone.
  • Sleeping disorder – insomnia, excess-sleeping.
  • Eating disorders
  • Excess drinking & smoking
stages of ptsd
Image from Pexels

4. Various Stages of PTSD

There are five prominent stages of PTSD – Initial or Emergency stage, Denial stage, Intrusive stage, Transitional stage, Integration stage.

4.1. Initial or Emergency Stage

In this first stage, the victim experiences shock, fear, guilt, numbness, extreme anxiety, anger within the first few hours of experiencing or witnessing trauma. The degree of which depends upon the severity of the trauma.

4.2. Denial Stage

In this stage, the victim tries to act normal or underestimate the impact of what he/she went through. This is mostly applicable to self-reliable people such as military personnel, who are ingrained to be self-sufficient from the very beginning of their careers.

Trauma victims try to overlook the symptoms unconsciously and it started to show in their behavior after a while in the form of anxiety & irritational behavior. Some are prone to indulge heavily in alcohol or smoking to numb these symptoms. They also try to avoid being in any situation that is likely to trigger the memory of trauma.

4.3. Intrusive Stage

In the third stage, victims started to make themselves believe everything is normal, denying the symptoms of PTSD affecting their day-to-day life. These suppressed feelings surfaced due to PTSD symptoms starting to make themselves appear in the form of nightmares and flashbacks.

This is the most destructive phase amongst the four stages of PTSD where because of the trauma survivor’s denial stage all those nightmares & flashbacks started to really disrupt everyday life.

4.4. Transition Stage

During this phase, you enter the recovery stage. The victim starts to come to term with the trauma he/she has experienced and their symptoms. They actually start to accept what happened and that it was not their fault. The victims begin to confront disruptions in their life due to the symptoms of PTSD.

Victims are in the phase of seeking appropriate helps to get back control of their life. Their outlook towards life starts to brighten and they prepare themselves to stop the downward spiral of their life.

4.5. Integration Stage

In this stage, victims started to experience real improvement in their conditions. They are well on the path to recovery with the help of professionals. They learn coping skills to overcome the distress on daily basis.

The process to observe real improvement can be longer or shorter depending on the severity of the trauma. Sometimes victims relapse but with much-needed help, they keep moving forward. The key here is to always ask for help and to keep on moving ahead.

5. Treatments Available for PTDS

Two types of therapy are mostly recommended for the treatment of trauma survivors to get over different stages of PTSD – Psychological and Medication. 

5.1. Psychological

Strong positive responses have been recorded through cognitive-behavioral therapies to make day to day life of trauma survivors who are suffering from various stages of PTSD easier.

Some which show prominent improvements are – prolonged exposure therapy2, cognitive process therapy, eye movement desensitization & reprocessing therapy. Let’s discuss them one by one.

5.1.1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

This therapy helps trauma survivors to change the patterns of thinking & behavior which trigger flashbacks, distress and, other PTSD symptoms. United States Department of Defense has approved this method because of the high rate of positive results.

The objective is to identify and understand how particular thoughts related to trauma create distress. Patients learn to identify the trigger thoughts which result in PTSD symptoms and replace them with positive ones.

5.1.2. Prolonged Exposure Therapy

During this therapy session, survivors are asked to re-live traumatic 3memory focusing on every minute detail in order to analyze all the emotions they felt during the traumatic incident. It’s done so that survivors can replace them with productive and positive emotions to keep on minimizing the effect of PTSD symptoms.

5.1.3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

This psychotherapy form is developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro based on the self-analyzation that whenever she thinks distressing thoughts her eye movement frequency speeds up.

During this therapy session, trauma survivors are asked to remember their traumatic experience while the therapist asks them to focus on hand movements or other kinds of distraction they are providing. The goal here is to train the survivor’s mind to focus on any kind of distraction going on around them, in order to lower the occurrence of distressing thoughts. After a while, they start to do it automatically.

5.2. Medications

In most PTSD 4patients, secretion of Cortisol and Catecholamines hormones is high when they are feeling distressed. Medication – Fluoxetine, Venlafaxine, Sertraline, and Paroxetine help patients to somewhat calm down, lessening their distress & anxiety.

6. Don’t Lose Hope

stages of ptsd
Image from Unsplash

If you are going through any stages of PTSD symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Advice for friends & family is to support people going through stages of PTSD in every possible way and be patient with them. Stages of PTSD can be treated by professionals, so take care of yourself and seek help. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Long Do the Different PTSD Stages Last?

Each stage’s duration can change depending on the person and their unique experiences. While the rescue phase can take days or even weeks, the impact phase can last anywhere from minutes to hours. Long-term repair might take years, while intermediate recovery can take several months to a year.

2. Can PTSD stages Occur in Any Order?

Although the above-listed stages of PTSD typically develop in that order, it’s crucial to remember that each person’s experience is different. Some people might skip some stages or go through them in a different order.

3. How can PTSD Sufferers Obtain Support at Each Stage?

Throughout each stage of PTSD, it’s critical that people get the support and professional assistance they need. There may be a need for emergency assistance during the impact stage. Reaching out to loved ones and going to counseling can be useful during the rescue period. Therapy, medicine, and support groups can all be successful therapeutic options during the intermediate healing and long-term reconstruction phases.

Read more from us here.

  1. Thapar, Anita, et al. “Depression in young people.” The Lancet 400.10352 (2022): 617-631. ↩︎
  2. Zhang, Qing, et al. “Signaling pathways and targeted therapy for myocardial infarction.” Signal transduction and targeted therapy 7.1 (2022): 78. ↩︎
  3. Maas, Andrew IR, et al. “Traumatic brain injury: progress and challenges in prevention, clinical care, and research.” The Lancet Neurology 21.11 (2022): 1004-1060. ↩︎
  4. Martin, Alicia, et al. “Treatment guidelines for PTSD: a systematic review.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 10.18 (2021): 4175. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Suchi



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *