Chris Kyle, ‘American Sniper’, and PTSD

Chris Kyle


As many of us know by now, Chris Kyle, AKA the deadliest sniper in American history, was shot and killed in February of 2013 by Eddie Ray Routh. Routh, who was, at the time, suffering from PTSD after serving time in the military in Iraq and Haiti, shot Kyle and his friend at a shooting range in Texas. Kyle and his friend, Chad Littleton, were both trying to help Routh recover from PTSD through FITCO Cares; the non-profit foundation Kyle co-founded to help veterans adjust back into civilian life. The enormous issue of PTSD in military veterans is a problem that needs to be put at the top of the list, and the release of the movie ‘American Sniper’ in January 2015 did just that.



According to Mayo Clinic, individuals with PTSD went through or witnessed traumatic event(s), and their symptoms may start within three months to years of a traumatic event. Symptoms are usually grouped into 4 categories:

INTRUSIVE MEMORIES: Reoccurring memories of the traumatic event, flashbacks, nightmares about the event, and severe reactions to triggers which remind the person of the event..

Interestingly enough, while PTSD has shown to actually affect the brain, flashbacks are simply the brain’s way of saying it is preparing itself for the traumatic experience to happen again- it has nothing to do with damage to the brain

AVOIDANCE:  Attempting to avoid thinking, talking about the traumatic event; as well as avoiding places, people, and activities associated with the event

NEGATIVE CHANGES IN THINKING AND MOOD: negative feelings about oneself and others, inability to feel any type of emotion, lack of interest in previous hobbies, hopelessness about the future, memory problems, and difficulty maintaining relationships

CHANGES IN EMOTIONAL REACTIONS: irrability, aggressive and angry outbursts, paranoia, guilt/shame, destructive behavior, trouble concentrating and sleeping, and being easily startled or frightened

These symptoms have alot to do with increased amygdala function.

Intensity of these symptoms may vary from person to person and time to time, depending on the stimuli presented.



There are various treatments for PTSD, which include medication, psychotherapy, or both.The most interesting part of PTSD treatments, however, is Psychotherapy. One type of therapy that has been found to be most successful is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). There are several parts to CBT:

Exposure therapy: helps people face and, hopefully, control their fear. Individuals with PTSD are exposed to the trauma they experienced in a safe environment, using techniques such as mental imagery, writing, and/or visits to the traumatic setting

When reading about this form of therapy, my mind drifted back to a day in class where we discussed object recognition, and that our mind will recognize a letter/word when it is frequently seen (word frequency effect), and repetition makes words easier to recognize (repetition priming). Although these two phenomenons deal with words, my mind tied them to exposure therapy. The more people with PTSD are exposed to something, even if it is the traumatic event/person/place that contributed to their PTSD, research shows that the more you are exposed to something, the easier it is to recognize. AKA, for example, the more a vet with PTSD visits a shooting range, the more he can realize he is AT that shooting range in the USA, NOT IRAQ. Thus, the more he can deal with it and face reality, realizing that it’s okay to move on, and that war is over.

Cognitive Restructuring: helps individuals with PTSD make sense of the bad memories and look at them in a realistic way. Sometimes, the individual will remember the event differently than how it happened.

When reading this, I tied it back to lecture on LTM and levels of processing information so that it moves to the LTM. Research shows that making sense of things, such as information on a test, improves memory and the probability of information moving to and remaining in the LTM. Therefore, it is no wonder that MAKING SENSE of bad memories and viewing them in a realistic way and connecting oneself to real life (and not war ((example)) has been proven to help those with PTSD.

This is interesting. In class, we’ve discussed how the memory is reconstructive, and by the time you retell a story/an event, it’s a completely different story than what actually happened. For example, it’s often said that people can lie so many time that they will begin to believe the lie. What is it that makes these soldiers reconstruct their memories into the worst possible memories that could have happened? Believing your lie is healthy. You’re justifying yourself and trying to make yourself feel better by making yourself believe the lie was actually true. So why is it that these soldiers would emotionally damage themselves even more than they already are?

It is also mind blowing that this emotional stress can even result in changes to the brain’s structure. Areas that are affected include the hippocampus, amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. Previous studies have shown that those with PTSD tend to have smaller hippocampal volumes, increased amygala function, and decreased prefrontal cingulate function. 

Stress inoculation training: teaches people how to reduce anxiety. This also allows people to view memories realistically and positively.

The hope is that one day, PTSD will be an issue that becomes more and more addressed. SO many cases go undiagnosed, and hopefully someday, a more effective form of treatment for PTSD becomes available.

1 thought on “Chris Kyle, ‘American Sniper’, and PTSD

  1. jennmoreland

    This article really stood out amongst the others because I come from a family with many members in the military. My uncle was in charge of the Wounded Warrior program at Quantico and also worked with soldiers that have PTSD so it was interesting to read more on what exactly PTSD is and how it affects the brain. The section about exposure therapy really caught my attention. I never thought to tie this type of therapy into object recognition but it does make sense that exposing someone with PTSD to the specific trauma that they would eventually come to realization that the situation, for example, when you were talking about the gun range, that they would realize they are just at a gun range in a controlled environment. I do have a question about emotional stress and its effects on the individual’s brain. The studies you looked used said that people suffering from PTSD have smaller hippocampal volumes, increased amygdala function and decreased prefrontal cingulate function, are they born this way meaning there are some people who are more susceptible to PTSD or are these changes in the brain a result from the PTSD? Also, if these brain changes are a result from PTSD, is it possible for the brain to go back to normal levels if healed? Overall I really enjoyed this article.

Comments are closed.