The ongoing debate about posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tackles a number of different aspects of the illness, and defining it is first and foremost. In that vein, a new study suggests the current diagnostic procedures for PTSD are insufficient.
Some experts believe current criteria fail to adequately reflect research into the broad nature of a traumatic event. The debate is an ongoing inquiry into the relevancy of an individual’s subjective experience in determining what constitutes a traumatic event.
The study concludes that both objective and subjective factors are relevant and that current PTSD criteria are missing several reactions that many trauma survivors experience.
The study’s authors conducted a comprehensive literature review of the research on peritraumatic experiences and the types of reactions that trauma survivors often demonstrate. They found that individuals adapt to extreme experiences in a highly complex and coordinated manner.
“A person’s response is multifaceted and may include appraisals and other thoughts, a variety of felt emotions and behaviors. It’s not enough to rely on the objective qualities of an experience to determine whether it should be considered traumatic or not,” said co-author Brian P. Marx, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.
“Trauma should be defined as the interaction between the individual and his or her environment, and all parts of an individual’s response should be considered.”
PTSD is a rarity among complex psychiatric diagnoses in that it is defined by an external cause, a traumatic event, so understanding what defines a traumatic experience is critical. Current criteria for PTSD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) include few distinct subjective emotions.
The authors suggest that researchers investigate and add more appropriate examples to these criteria in order to more accurately categorize traumatic events.
“Knowing exactly what trauma is can help us to better know who is a trauma survivor and who is not,” said Marx.
“It is critical that we know this for the purposes of understanding the disorder as well as being better able to help those who are survivors of trauma.”
The study will appear in the January print issue of Psychological Bulletin.
Source: Boston University Medical Center