Post-traumatic stress responses are too often not treated as such, especially in children, for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes the signs or so-called symptoms too closely resemble the challenges of other disoders, such as ADHD or Bipolar Disorder. Hypervigilence and anxiety, for example, are too often mistaken for hyperactivity. Sometimes the number of difficulties observed in the aftermath of trauma do not meet the specific criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Whatever the reason, as medical and mental health practitioners, we must recognize the difference between similar-looking symptoms and be certain we are treating post-traumatic stress responses as such and not as some other disorder. We must also be much less concerned with whether or not EVERY criteria for PTSD is met before appropriately aiding those suffering from any degree of a post-traumatic stress response.

The term post-traumatic stress response (PTSR) was coined by Dr. Peter Levine, creator of Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapy, in an effort to recognize that the so-called symptoms of trauma are simply the natural way our bodies respond to trauma. According to Levine, they do not constitute a disorder. The problem lies not in the symptoms but in the lack of opportunity to use up the energy mobilized during the threat. The symptoms simply signal where in the body the energies need to be discharged from. Furthermore, there are many different degrees of responses after a traumatic event. All degrees need to be recognized as worthy of consideration of treatment and intervention. PTSD is reserved for persons who exhibit a certain number of symptoms to a particularly debilitating degree. The term PTSR helps us consider all individuals who are suffering in the aftermath of trauma, regardless of meeting criteria for a disorder.

Please read “Why Students Underachieve: What Educators and Parents Can Do about It” for more information and resources.