Diagnosis and Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological disorder caused by exposure to a traumatic event. It causes extreme response to stimuli that resembles the event. With a focus on a Grey’s Anatomy character named Owen Hunt, this paper evaluates the DSM V criteria for diagnosis of PTSD. It also evaluates the general causes of the disorder. Finally, it describes intervention and treatment options available for PTSD.

Owen Hunt is a character in the medical drama TV show Grey’s Anatomy. He is a trauma surgeon, which means that he attends to patients in emergency situations. In most cases, trauma surgeons deal with life-threatening injuries such as those resulting from an accident. Dr. Hunt also served as an army trauma surgeon in Iraq. Due to his experiences in the military, he exhibits signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After returning from his Iraq tour, Owen displayed certain symptoms indicative of a psychological disorder. First, he experiences recurring nightmares about the war. In these nightmares, Owen has flashbacks of his time in Iraq. They are persistent in that he experiences them almost every night. They interfere with his sleep and make it nearly impossible for him to sleep peacefully. Second, he exhibits aggressive behavior especially towards his love interest, Cristina. In one episode, Cristina stirred Owen from a nightmare. Owen then grabbed her neck and accidentally choked her (Grant, 2021). In another instance, Cristina startled him in his sleep and he pushed her into a shelf, hurting her elbow. Owen’s aggression is unintended since it mostly happens when he is woken up from his sleep. Third, Owen experiences memory loss, especially after waking up from the nightmares. He tells Cristina that he does not remember what led him to hurt her. For instance, when he wakes up with his hands around her neck, he does not seem to know or remember the cause of this behavior (Grant, 2021). Owen seems to be in a trance at times with no knowledge of what he is doing. When he comes out of the trance, he sometimes has no recollection of events that happened during the trance.

Another psychological symptom that Owen experiences is feelings of guilt and shame. During his last tour in Iraq, his unit had 20 soldiers including himself. All of these soldiers died on tour except him. Owen harbors feelings of shame and guilt for surviving when no one else did. He feels that he should have died alongside his troop. He also feels that he somehow betrayed his troop and is unable to forgive himself for it (Grant, 2021). This leads to negative thoughts about himself and a tendency towards self-destruction. Owen also experiences certain triggers related to his Iraq tour. For instance, the rotation of a ceiling fan reminded him of a helicopter, which triggered terrors and nightmares. From these symptoms, it is likely that Dr. Owen Hunt has PTSD.

Owen meets most of the DSM V criteria for PTSD diagnosis. Criterion A requires that an individual experienced or witnessed a traumatic event (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). During the tour, Owen narrowly escapes death, which constitutes a traumatic occurrence. He also witnessed numerous traumatic events including soldiers losing their body parts in the field. In one episode, Owen recounts how a friend died in his arms. Owen also witnessed the death of his entire troop and remained as the only survivor. The second criterion requires the presence of one or more intrusion symptoms (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Owen displays several of the symptoms characterized as intrusion symptoms of PTSD by the DSM V. For instance, he has persistent and involuntary memories of the traumatic events he experienced. Aside from the flashbacks, he also has recurring dreams about the events. Additionally, Owen experiences dissociative reactions such as the loss of awareness of his surroundings when in a trance. Another intrusion symptom is a physical reaction to external or internal cues that resemble any aspect of the traumatic event. In one instance, Owen was triggered by the spinning of the ceiling fan which reminded him of a helicopter in the warzone.

The third category of symptoms associated with PTSD involves avoidance of stimuli related to the traumatic events. In his case, Owen constantly shut down when anyone inquired about his service in Iraq. The fourth category constitutes negative alterations in moods and thoughts (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). One example in Owen’s case is the belief that he was responsible for the deaths of his colleagues. His feelings of shame, anger, and guilt also fall under this category of symptoms. Owen alienated Cristina because he believed he would hurt her. Feelings of estrangement or detachment from others is another example of negative changes in cognitions and moods. In the fifth category, DSM V gives a list of reactivity and arousal responses associated with PTSD (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Owen displays irritable behavior, exaggerated startle response (choking Cristina), self-destructive behavior, and difficulty staying asleep. All the symptoms discussed so far have lasted for more than one month, which means he meets the sixth criterion. He also meets the next criterion because the disturbance has destabilized his social and professional life. Finally, these symptoms are not caused by factors such as medication or alcohol. Owen Hunt meets all the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis according to the DSM V.

The main cause of PTSD is exposure to extreme stressors. Examples of stressors include serious accidents, child abuse, physical or sexual assault, disasters, terror attacks, child loss, and war. In Owen’s case, the extreme stressor was the Iraq tour where he encountered a number of traumatic events. Exposure occurs when an individual experiences or witnesses a traumatic incident or learns of one that happened to a close family or friend (Lancaster et al., 2016). Although the main cause of PTSD is exposure to traumatic events, research shows that there is a genetic component to the disorder (Wilker et al., 2018). This means that some people are more susceptible to develop PTSD than others. Nonetheless, the occurrence of PTSD can only be triggered by experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a traumatic event.

There are many treatment option that would be beneficial for a person with PTSD such as Owen. One option is psychological intervention through exposure therapy. This entails a therapist helping the client process traumatic memories by recounting the traumatic event. It also involves confronting stimuli that resembles the event. The stimuli is usually frightening for the individual yet done within a safe environment. The goal is to desensitize the person from it such that future exposure does not cause extreme responses (Watkins et al., 2018). PTSD can also be treated through cognitive therapy which involves modifying thoughts associated with the traumatic event. It can be used to deal with negative alterations in thoughts and moods which lead to feelings of guilt and shame. In Owen’s case, for instance, a therapist would help him modify his thought process such that recollection of the traumatic event does not trigger feelings of guilt.

Another form of treatment available for PTSD is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). In this option, the patient follows the finger or hand movements made by their therapist. The therapist also asks the patient to recall the traumatic event and helps shift their thoughts to more relaxing ones (Bhandari, 2019). This intervention is meant to help the patient process the traumatic event. Similar to cognitive therapy, EMDR focuses on modifying the thought process associated with the traumatic event. Aside from psychological interventions, PTSD can be treated through pharmacological interventions. Studies show selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) can alleviate the symptoms of PTSD (Lancaster et al., 2016). Examples of SSRIs used in the treatment of PTSD include sertraline and paroxetine (Lancaster et al., 2016). However, it is important to note that discontinuation of drug medication typically results in relapse. Inasmuch as there are many treatment options for PTSD, psychological interventions are generally recommended since they either stabilize or continuously improve symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic event. For an individual to be diagnosed with it, they must meet certain criteria listed in the DSM V. Symptoms of PTSD can generally be categorized as intrusion, arousal and reactivity, stimuli avoidance, and negative alterations in moods and thoughts. After diagnosis, an individual should seek treatment to manage the symptoms. There are many treatment options including cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, EMDR, and medication. The first two are thought to be the most effective forms of treatment. Ultimately, the goal of PTSD treatment is to manage the symptoms so they do not interfere with the personal, social, professional or other aspects of the person’s life.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. American Psychiatric Publications.

Bhandari, S. (2019). EMDR: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. WebMD.

Grant, E. A. (2021). “Living in the after”: Examining how “Grey’s Anatomy” portrays post-traumatic stress disorder. Pell Scholars and Senior Theses, 137. 

Lancaster, C. L., Teeters, J. B., Gros, D. F., & Back, S. E. (2016). Posttraumatic stress disorder: Overview of evidence-based assessment and treatment. Journal of clinical medicine, 5(11), 105.

Watkins, L. E., Sprang, K. R., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2018). Treating PTSD: A review of evidence-based psychotherapy interventions. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 12, 258.

Wilker, S., Schneider, A., Conrad, D. et al. (2018). Genetic variation is associated with PTSD risk and aversive memory: Evidence from two trauma-Exposed African samples and one healthy European sample. Translational psychiatry, 8(1), 1-11.

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