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What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is a collection of one-page information handouts for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, handouts in the series describe how it can feel to struggle with a difficulty and are reliable sources of information for your clients. Drawing upon established cognitive behavioral models, each handout has a particular focus on maintaining factors that might prevent the problem from getting better. What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? is designed to help clients with PTSD to understand more about their condition.

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Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

Many of us will experience trauma at some point in our lives. With time, most people recover from their experiences without needing professional help. However, for a significant proportion of people the effects of trauma last for much longer, and they develop a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is thought that between 3 and 5 people out of every 100 will experience PTSD every year. Fortunately, there are a range of excellent psychological therapies for PTSD. 

The What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? information handout is designed to help clients with PTSD understand more about their condition. It includes:

  • A summary of the most common symptoms of PTSD.
  • Descriptions of what it can feel like to have PTSD.
  • A description of why PTSD might not get better by itself, derived from the Ehlers & Clark (2000) cognitive model of PTSD.
  • A brief overview of evidence-based psychological treatments for PTSD.

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is designed to support your clients:
  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • Scaffold knowledge. The handouts are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.

References And Further Reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
  • Courtois, C. A., Sonis, J., Brown, L. S., Cook, J., Fairbank, J. A., Friedman, M., & Schulz, P. (2017). Clinical practice guideline for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. American Psychological Association.
  • Ehlers, A., & Clark, D. M. (2000). A cognitive model of posttraumatic stress disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38(4), 319-345.
  • Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and co-morbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617-627.
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2018). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved from:
  • World Health Organization. (2019). ICD-11: International classification of diseases (11th revision). Retrieved from