Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is PTSD?

 The National Center for PTSD defines it this way: “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening.”[1]

PTSD is a prolonged reaction to extreme distress severe enough to interfere with the person’s life. It’s mostly defined by the time-span involved:

  • The normal, shocked reaction to trauma, described above, lasts up to two days.
  • The same symptoms, lasting from two days to one month, are called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
  • If these symptoms persist longer than one month, and interfere with the person’s life, it’s called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The longer the person stays in this distressed state, the harder it becomes to resolve the disorder and find or create new center and balance points.

Typical symptoms of PTSD:

  • Flashbacks – intrusive memories of the traumatic event(s), including nightmares
  • Amnesia
  • Emotional numbness – inability to engage with people or with activities you enjoyed before the trauma
  • Hypersensitivity – imagining threats where none exist, over-reactions to loud noises and other reminders of the trauma
  • Disproportionate irritability and aggressiveness
  • Self medication / substance abuse
  • Persistent second-guessing and a sense of guilt and inadequacy.

Some of these symptoms seem contradictory: flashbacks and/or amnesia, numbness and/or hypersensitivity, sometimes in the same person at different times. What that means, of course, is that PTSD is really not a simple phenomenon, but a cluster of different reactions to overwhelming and traumatic events. For us, understanding causation is not nearly as important as knowing how to help.


What do people with PTSD need from their friends, coven-mates, and loved ones?

They need acceptance. They need to tell their stories to somebody who can listen without judgment and, hopefully, understand. Listeners need to be patient in two ways. We must not pry or push them to revisit painful memories before they feel ready to face those memories, and we need to hear them out patiently when they tell the same stories again and again while struggling to come to terms with these memories. Above all, we need to avoid any criticism or second-guessing of how they handled themselves during the crisis. This is not the time for that.

They need to ground, and will probably need help in grounding. Our spiritual and magical lore can help by providing us with specific grounding techniques. It will be easier for a traumatized person to use methods they knew well before the trauma, but they may need a gentle reminder of these resources, or the support of their home Circle.

They may need to work through survivors’ guilt, particularly if other people died, or suffered more severe physical injuries. They will wonder if they could have done something to help or protect the victims. They may feel uneasy about having been spared. Divinatory techniques may offer some answers to these deep questions.

Only after releasing pain and guilt, they need to appreciate and appropriate lessons learned. Again, divination may help with this part of the process, and formal ritual may as well.

When they are ready, which means when these earlier steps are worked through, they need to be formally and ritually welcomed back to the local community. Many Pagan warrior cultures offer rituals for laying down the warrior role and returning to the person’s previous relationships and tasks. We need to adapt those, and create similar rituals for other kinds of traumas.

The problem here is that a person who has been through trauma will never lose those memories – and perhaps never should lose those learnings. So our rituals of return and welcome should not attempt to make it as though the trauma never happened or to restore status quo ante. Instead, they should honor the experience as a sort of initiation into elder status within the community.

Also, because people are forever changed by their traumatic experiences, their significant relationships will necessarily change as well. Lifemates and children must adjust to these changes, and will need community support as well.

And, finally, they may seek ways to put their hard-won learning to work for the community. People who have worked through recovery often become “wounded healers,” offering support to others more recently traumatized. Reframing bitter experience into a preparation for needed and appreciated service is the final, healing empowerment – a transformation of dross into gold.



To learn more:



  • Baranowsky, Anna et. al. Trauma Practice: Tools for Stabilization and Recovery Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe, 2005
  • Figley, Charles Helping Traumatized Families; San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1989
  • Shay, Jonathan Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character; Scribner, 1994
  • Matsukis, Aphrodite Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love and the Family; Baltimore: Sidran, 2007
  • Tanielian, Terry and Lisa H. Jaycox, eds. Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery; Rand, Center for Military Health Policy Research, 2008
  • Tick, Edward, PhD War and the Soul;  Wheaton, IL: Quest, 2005

This book considers PTSD as a “soul wound,” and explores both ancient and indigenous methods for soul healing.

Web Sites

This is the Veterans' Administration site, mostly devoted to information about PTSD arising from combat. Their searchable PILOTS database catalogs scholarly information all PTSD, regardless of origin. They also have a resource specifically for families of people with PTSD.