How Do You Receive a PTSD Diagnosis?


Before people can get help and treatment for PTSD, they have to be diagnosed by a mental health professional. 

The following are the eight requirements that meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis:

A. Personal traumatic exposure to the person or directly witnessing actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

B. Intrusive memories (re-experiencing visual, auditory, tactile, odors, tastes, thoughts, or emotions associated with the traumatic event). This includes intrusive dreams and nightmares.

C. Persistent avoidance of thoughts, emotions, memories, or reminders regarding the traumatic experience.

D. Negative changes in thinking and mood since the traumatic event.

E. Intensified arousal and reactivity since the trauma (e.g., sleep disturbance, concentration problems, exaggerated startle response, overly reactive to stimuli, reckless behavior, irritability).

F. B, C, D, and E (above) begin after the trauma exposure and last longer than one month.

G. The disturbance causes significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or normal life functions.

H. The disturbance is not attributable to the effects of substances (medications or alcohol) or medical conditions.


There are effective PTSD treatments available. The two main types are counseling (or psychotherapy) and medication. Sometimes counseling and medication are combined.

Treatments for PTSD include the following:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):  CBT is the most effective treatment for PTSD. CBT usually involves meeting with a therapist once a week. It also involves Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), which gives the person skills to handle distressing thoughts and memories. They will focus on examining and challenging thoughts about the trauma, so they understand what they went through and how the trauma changed the way they look at the world, themselves, and others.

Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy: Repeated exposure to thoughts, feelings, and situations that the person has been avoiding helps them learn that they didn’t have to prevent reminders of the trauma. In PE therapy, the patient and their therapist will identify the situations they have been avoiding and will repeatedly confront those situations until the distress decreases.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR involves moving your eyes in a specific way while processing traumatic memories. It can also involve a sequence of discussing difficult images, and then focusing on hand movements or tapping. The rapid eye movements make it easier for the brain to work through the traumatic memories. Focusing on hand movements or tapping sounds after talking about the traumatic event may help change how the person reacts to memories of their trauma over time. 

Trauma Incident Reduction (TIR): The therapist has the patient tell the story of the traumatic event repeatedly. Over time, this repetition lessens the emotional intensity of the memories. It may take several sessions to achieve positive results. 

Medications. Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) raise the level of serotonin in the brain, which can make the person feel better.

Does Treatment Work?

CBT, EMDR, TIR, and SSRIs have the best evidence for treating PTSD. Researchers around the world have found better outcomes for people who get these treatments than those who receive other treatments, or no treatment at all. These treatments can cause positive and meaningful changes in symptoms and improve quality of life.

Finding Treatment

If someone thinks they have PTSD, it’s important they get assessed by a professional like their doctor or a mental health provider; they should never diagnose themselves. They should know that early treatment may help reduce long-term symptoms. Veterans can contact a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital or the Vet Center Call Center (877-927-8387) for a referral to resources. Also, anyone can find a psychologist in their area by using the Psychologist Locator tool on the American Psychological Association (APA) website at:

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