There are five stages of recovery for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The first stage is called the “emergency” or outcry stage. The
victim’s responses are very intense and run at high levels where they feel the “fight or flight” response come over them when faced with a life-threatening situation. Their feelings can last as long as the victim feels this situation is still present. These victims can display physical signs such as rapid breathing, rapid pulse, and elevated blood pressure. Muscle movements are usually still increased. Feelings of fear and helplessness overtake their bodies. When the situation has ended, the victim is truly relieved, but very confused as to what occurred and why.
The next phase is the emotional numbing and denial phase. In this phase the survivor protects themselves by denying these emotions and trying to forget them. They avoid emotion to eliminate anxiety and stress they are feeling. Many victims cannot remove themselves from this state and may remain in it throughout their lives without professional assistance.
The third phase is called the “intrusive-repetitive” phase. The survivors now have nightmares, can have volatile mood swings and intrusive images, and display higher startle responses. They may go into an antisocial stage to be used as an internal defense mechanism as to not have to relive the trauma. Mandated professional help may be required if the survivor has become so overwhelmed with stress that they can no longer cope.
The fourth phase is “reflective – transition”. In this phase the survivor has a larger picture of the events and moves forward with a positive and constructive outcome and do not look back on the negative. This could be called the healing process as they are able to deal with the issues constructively and confront the trauma head on.
The final stage is the integration phase. In this fifth stage the survivor has succeeded in overcoming the trauma and past experiences. They can now move forward by placing the trauma securely in the past and can regain peace within themselves.
Reprinted with permission of Vancleave, D. M. (2007).