An Understanding of Traumatic Stress Disorder in Oakland

Traumatic stress disorder occurs when a person is forced to experience an intense, life threatening event in which he or she is helpless, horrified, or extremely afraid. The sufferer may experience dissociative episodes, chronic distress, anxiety, flashbacks, sleep problems, nightmares, and depression. These symptoms can be extremely disruptive to one’s life. If the symptoms occur within four weeks of the event and persist from two days to four weeks, the disorder is called Acute Stress Disorder. If the symptoms persist for more than four weeks, the disorder becomes Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One’s susceptibility to this depends on many factors, including gender, culture, genetics, and personal experiences.


Intense reactions to stressful or traumatic situations have historically been associated with veterans of wars. Though this condition isn’t limited just to combat veterans, it was first noticed in soldiers returning from World War Two. In 1952, the American Psychological Association released the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-1). To address a growing phenomenon of World War Two veterans with symptoms of irritability, dissociation, anxiety, nightmares, and depression. DSM-1 calls this condition “Gross Stress Reaction.” The symptoms described are extremely similar to current understandings of PTSD. Before this, similar conditions were called railway spine, stress syndrome, nostalgia, soldier’s heart, shell shock, battle fatigue, combat stress reaction, or traumatic war neurosis.

Gross Stress Reaction was excluded from DSM-II, but after Vietnam, a similar condition was added to DSM-III. This condition became known as posttraumatic stress disorder.

Gender Differences

The causes, symptoms, and reactions to traumatic stress disorder are different depending on the gender of the sufferer. Men most often suffer from ASD and PTSD due to combat and witnessing of horrifying events. Women most often suffer from ASD and PTSD as a result of rape or sexual molestation.

Women are more likely than men to dissociate from the event or to “freeze” and be unable to process the event. In response to the trauma, women tend to avoid reminders of the trauma and internalize their emotional responses. Men, on the other hand, tend to slip into substance abuse and increased irritability.


Psychologists with the APA now believe that early intervention is key to preventing or mitigating PTSD. In 1994, the APA classified ASD as a separate disorder with the hopes that psychologists would treat it as a separate disorder, thereby preventing the occurrence of PTSD.

Treating the condition early is vital to successful management. Psychologists encourage many different management methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, interpersonal psychotherapy, medication, play therapy, exercise, and sports.

Therapeutic yoga is one particular treatment for traumatic stress disorder in Oakland that has gained some traction. The APA insists that a sufferer consult his or her doctor before starting any exercise or therapy regimen.

Since the days of “soldier’s heart” and “railway spine,” understanding for these conditions has increased greatly but still has a long way to go. Researchers now understand that recovery is perhaps more accurately called management, but management is possible with professional help and commitment.

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