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PTSD 101

This PTSD 101 page is broken into four parts:

  1. PTSD 101 Intro.

  2. PTSD info/resources

  3. Support sites for trauma victims.

  4. Topics and discussion questions for student papers and projects

PTSD 101 Intro

If you just need a 30-second summary or refresher, I've excerpted the intro from a true expert, Dr. Frank Ochberg (in italics):

PTSD is three reactions at once, all caused by an event that terrifies, horrifies or renders one helpless. The triad of disabling responses is:

  1. recurring intrusive recollections;

  2. emotional numbing and constriction of life activity and,

  3. a physiological shift in the fear threshold, affecting sleep, concentration, and sense of security.


By definition . . . this syndrome must last at least a month before PTSD can be diagnosed. Furthermore, a severe trauma must be evident and causally related to the cluster of symptoms. There are people who are fearful, withdrawn and plagued by episodes of vague, troubling sensations, but they cannot identify a specific traumatic precipitant. (Some clinicians assume this means abuse occurred and was repressed. The pattern of PTSD reactions thus may be used, illogically and erroneously, to "prove" a hidden trauma).


PTSD should only be diagnosed when an event of major dimension - a searing, stunning, haunting event - has clearly occurred and is relived, despite strenuous attempts to avoid the memory.

Recurring, intrusive recollections

The core feature of PTSD, distinguishing the condition from anxiety or depression, is the unavoidable echo of the event, often vivid, occasionally so real that it is called a flashback or hallucination. The survivor of a plane crash feels a falling sensation, re-visualizes the moment of impact, then fears going crazy because his or her mind and body return uncontrollably to that harrowing scene.

Read Dr. Ochberg's full PTSD 101.

PTSD Info and Resources

Great info here on what PTSD is, how to recognize it, and how to cope. I have spent 17years on the subject, and these are my recommendations for getting starting:

I recommend you start with the first link, by Dr. Frank Ochberg. He was on the team that first recognized the condition and created the diagnosis. He remains a leading expert on it. I met him covering Columbine and found his wisdom invaluable, along with an amazing ability to articulate who victims respond, and to explain complex neurological ideas in simple language to ordinary people outside the field. I've quote his intro in the last section.

(I eventually became an Ochberg fellow at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University's Jouralism School. Frank founded it, and they do great work. I highly recommend their site as well, particularly to jounalists, or anyone interested in media coverage.)

Support sites for trauma victims

I have vetted all these organizations, and their sites have solid information and resources. They are a great place to start if you're in need:

Topics & Discussions for Students


Core Topics

  1. Definition

  2. Impact / Consequences

  3. Causes

  4. Treatment

  5. How it works, medically

  6. Prevalence

  7. Stigma

  8. The public understanding

Discussion Questions

  1. What is PTSD ? How does it differ from ordinary trauma? How is the term misapplied?

  2. List and describe the major criteria for a PTSD case.

  3. How common is PTSD? Discuss some of the major situations that can bring it about.

  4. What causes PTSD? Describe the medical process of how it occurs in the brain.

  5. Are there effective treatments? Describe them. What should victims or people close to them not do in the immediate aftermath?

  6. How quickly do symptoms of PTSD show up? How long does it usually last?


If you're using Columbine for your paper or project, these page numbers may help. (They refer to the hardcover edition):

  • 96-98 (Chapter 19, “Vacuuming”)

  • 101-102, 106-107

  • 116-122

  • 281-292

  • 312-314

  • 354-358 (Chapter 53, “At the Broken Places”)

I also created a PTSD unit in the (free) Columbine Teacher's Guide, which may be helpful. Parkland.

PTSD 101 Intro
PTSD info/resources
Support sites
Topics/discussion for students
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