Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a Motor Vehicle Accident

There are about six million motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) that occur in the U.S. each year, with 2.5 million resulting in injuries. Many times injuries sustained are psychological and emotional in nature. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) research found that 39.2% of MVA survivors develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is PTSD?

PTSD is triggered by a life-threatening event. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines PTSD as a psychiatric disorder that develops when an individual experiences or witnesses a traumatic event with secondary psychological symptoms. Traumatic events could include a serious car accident in which a person is threatened with serious injury or death.

Common PTSD Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fearfulness
  • Sleep problems
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Flashbacks from the accident
  • Headaches
  • Avoidance behaviors (e.g., avoiding driving or being near a car)
  • Irritability
  • Guilty feelings

Risk Factors for PTSD after MVA

  • Dissociation (e.g., feeling of being detached from reality) during or after the accident
  • High emotionality during or after the accident (e.g., fear, helplessness, horror, guilt)
  • Perceived life threat to self or others
  • History of mood disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety)
  • Prior experience of trauma
  • Obsessive thinking and avoidance behaviors
  • Lack of social support after accident


High emotionality can follow after an MVA. Most victims report experiencing shock, guilt, fear, and helplessness. Typically, these symptoms subside over time. But if symptoms persist or get worse, one should seek treatment. There are many effective treatments available for PTSD, and recovery is possible. At NRS|LS, we offer cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD, including Biofeedback. Here, you can learn necessary skills to cope with emotional symptoms and regain control over your life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms following an MVA, please call our office for a consultation.

Basia Andrejko-Gworek, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology, Post-Doctoral Fellow
Permit# TP #213-03