What is PTSD?

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What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Traumatic events that can lead to PTSD may include military combat exposure, physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, accidents, and death of a loved one.

People with PTSD may experience a range of symptoms such as intrusive memories, nightmares, or flashbacks related to the traumatic event.   People with PTSD try to avoid reminders of the traumatic event, including places, people, thoughts, or activities.  PTSD can lead to negative changes in a person’s mood, such as persistent feelings of fear, anger, guilt, or shame. Cognitive changes may include distorted beliefs about oneself or others.  Individuals with PTSD may experience difficulty sleeping, irritability, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, and an exaggerated startle response.

These symptoms often impact a person’s daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life.

How do you know if a residential level of care is necessary rather than getting care at a lower level such as individual outpatient therapy, outpatient psychiatric care, intensive outpatient programs?

The decision to seek residential treatment for PTSD is typically based on the severity of symptoms and the impact they have on an individual’s daily functioning and safety.  Some symptoms that might warrant this level of care include:

  • Severe Flashbacks or Intrusive Memories: If an individual experiences intense and frequent flashbacks or intrusive memories of the traumatic event that significantly disrupt their ability to engage in daily activities or maintain a stable emotional state.
  • Suicidal Thoughts or Self-Harm: When someone with PTSD is experiencing suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harming behaviors, residential treatment may be necessary to provide constant supervision, support, and intervention.
  • Avoidance Behaviors: If avoidance behaviors are so pronounced that they interfere with the person’s ability to attend therapy sessions, engage in necessary activities, or maintain relationships, a more intensive level of treatment may be considered.
  • Severe Mood Disturbances: Individuals with PTSD may experience severe mood disturbances, such as intense anxiety, rage, or emotional numbness. When these disturbances are extreme and persistent, residential treatment can provide a structured environment for stabilization.
  • Substance Abuse Issues: Co-occurring substance abuse issues can complicate the treatment of PTSD. If there is a risk of substance abuse exacerbating PTSD symptoms or vice versa, residential treatment may be necessary to address both issues simultaneously.
  • Impaired Daily Functioning: If PTSD symptoms significantly impair a person’s ability to perform daily activities, maintain employment, or participate in social relationships, residential treatment may be recommended to address these functional impairments.
  • Lack of Social Support or Unsafe Living Environment: Individuals without a supportive and safe living environment may benefit from residential treatment, where they can receive continuous support and care until they are better equipped to transition back to their regular living situation.

What to expect from a residential treatment program ?

Choosing a residential program for PTSD can be beneficial for several reasons:

  • Intensive Treatment: Residential programs offer an intensive and immersive therapeutic environment. Individuals in these programs typically receive several hours of therapy each day, allowing for a focused and comprehensive approach to treatment.
  • Structured Environment: Residential settings provide a structured and controlled environment, which can be particularly helpful for individuals with PTSD. Consistent routine and controlled surroundings can contribute to a sense of safety and predictability.
  • 24/7 Support: In a residential program, individuals have access to round-the-clock support from mental health professionals. This constant availability ensures immediate assistance during moments of distress or crisis.
  • Peer Support: Being in a residential setting allows individuals to connect with peers who have experienced similar traumas. Peer support can be a powerful therapeutic tool, fostering a sense of understanding, validation, and community.
  • Specialized Trauma Therapies: Residential programs often offer a variety of specialized trauma therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). These therapies are tailored to address the specific needs of individuals with PTSD.
  • Holistic Approach: Many residential programs take a holistic approach to treatment, addressing not only the psychological aspects of PTSD but also physical, emotional, and social well-being. This may include activities such as yoga, mindfulness, art therapy, and outdoor activities.
  • Medication Management: For individuals who may benefit from medication as part of their treatment plan, residential programs can closely monitor and adjust medications as needed. This ensures optimal medication management to support the therapeutic process.

Comprehensive Assessment: Residential programs often conduct thorough assessments to identify underlying issues, co-occurring disorders, and individualized treatment needs. This helps tailor the treatment plan to address the specific challenges of each person.

About the Author:

Dr. Segal completed his medical school education at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, in Tucson, Arizona. He continued training in a general psychiatry residency at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Then Dr. Segal completed a forensic psychiatry fellowship at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, in Los Angeles.  Dr. Segal is double board certified in General and Forensic Psychiatry.  Dr. Segal is the Chief Medical Officer at the Valley Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.



Distinguished Fellow American Psychiatric Association

American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Board Certified General Adult and Forensic Psychiatrist

Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Arizona