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Frequently asked questions

What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
What Are the Specific Criteria for a Diagnosis of PTSD?
Who Will Develop PTSD?
What is a "Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program"?
What Will the Program Involve?
How was this program developed?

Q: What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?
A: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder with several major conditions/criteria that need to occur in order to reach a diagnosis. The major categories include: having experienced a traumatic event and being very frightened by it; re-experiencing the traumatic event; avoidance of subsequent events that are similar or reminders of the event; a numbing of feelings and responsiveness as compared to how you felt before the traumatic event; and physical hyperarousal of the person while going through such situations.

Q: What Are the Specific Criteria for a Diagnosis of PTSD?
A: To diagnose a person with PTSD, mental health professionals use criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV; APA 1994). A complete listing of the criteria necessary to reach a diagnosis of PTSD can be found below.

  • The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, and the person"s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.
  • The traumatic event is persistently reexperienced in one (or more) of the following ways: recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions, recurrent distressing dreams of the event, acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring, intense psychological distress or physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
  • Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma)
  • Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma), as indicated by two (or more) of the following: difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response.
  • Duration of the disturbance is more than 1 month.
  • The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Q: Who Will Develop PTSD?
A: Our own studies have shown that there are four independent predictors of who develops PTSD from MVAs.

  • History of clinical (or major) depression at some point prior to the MVA
  • Extent of the physical injury
  • The degree of fear of dying in the MVA
  • Initiation of litigation

Q: What is a "Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Program"?
A: A goal of cognitive-behavioral treatment (sometimes referred to as "cognitive-behavioral therapy" or CBT) is to identify those thoughts (cognitions) and behaviors that exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD. Once identified, these unnecessary and detrimental thoughts/behaviors can be overcome by using concrete strategies and skills for coping with a disorder.

Q: What Does the Program Involve?
A: This workbook and the treatment program will entail learning a number of skills that have been found to help people suffering from PTSD following their MVAs. These skills will include learning a number of relaxation techniques and learning different ways to think and view the MVA and the reactions that have followed. It will also include an exposure intervention where you will learn how to face those things that currently provoke very uncomfortable feelings and anxiety. This will be done in a way that will let you master them, as well as opportunity to deal with other issues such as the feelings of numbness and estrangement from others, anger, facing one"s mortality and life changes from the MVA and issues that are perhaps unique for your response.Treatment will typically require 8-12 sessions (maybe more) with an average number of 10.

Q: How was this program developed?
A: The MVA PTSD treatment was developed as part of the Albany MVA Project. The project initially studied a large number of individuals who had developed PTSD following their MVA (nearly 40%!). Once it was established that this was a significant problem, the project naturally tried to develop treatments to help people who were impacted by their MVA. After a number of pilot projects looking at what seemed to be most helpful procedures, a large scale, controlled treatment program was developed and tested. It is this treatment program that is followed in Overcoming the Trauma of Your Motor Vehicle Accident.

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