Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis. It’s a description of a particular set of symptoms that form a mental disorder. So how is PTSD diagnosed? By examining the list of criteria from a book called The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)¹. You need to meet the all the criterion from A to F to be diagnosed with PTSD. Note that only a mental health professional can diagnose you.
Criterion A: stressor
The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following have been present:
- The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.
- The person’s response involved intense fear,helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.
Criterion B: intrusive recollection
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in at least one of the following ways:
- Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: in young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.
- Recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: in children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content
- Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes,including those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated). Note: in children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur.
- Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
- Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event
Criterion C: avoidant/numbing
Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by at least three of the following:
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
- Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
- Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
- Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
- Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
- Restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)
- Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)
Criterion D: hyper-arousal
Persistent symptoms of increasing arousal (not present before the trauma), indicated by at least two of the following:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Exaggerated startle response
Criterion E: duration
Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in B, C, and D) is more than one month.
Criterion F: functional significance
The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
As you can see, PTSD can be quite a debilitating diagnosis. It’s also clear why combat vets, first responders (police, fire, EMT) and victims of natural disasters can be prone to PTSD. PTSD is also found in people who have suffered abuse or other very traumatic emotional event.
Fortunately PTSD is treatable, and EMDR has been found to be a highly effective treatment (citation).
If you, or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, please call me for a free consultation about treatment options. 510-771-7760.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
¹ American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.