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J Anxiety Disord. 2005;19(6):687-98.

Is life stress more traumatic than traumatic stress?

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  • 1Psychology Department, Temple University, Weiss Hall, 1701N 13th St., Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA.


This study explored the definition of a traumatic stressor, as it currently stands in the DSM-IV-TR, and the relationship between this definition and psychological symptomatology. Four hundred and fifty-four college undergraduates completed measures assessing psychopathology and exposure to trauma. Individuals were then divided into two groups, those who reported a traumatic event that was consistent with the DSM Criterion A1 definition and those who reported a traumatic event that was inconsistent with the definition. Surprisingly, the latter group reported significantly greater severity of PTSD symptomatology than those who reported a Criterion A1 PTSD event. In addition, significantly more people in the DSM trauma-incongruent group met criteria for PTSD than those in the DSM trauma-congruent group. Nearly two-thirds of the DSM trauma-incongruent group identified the death or illness of a loved one as their traumatic experience. The results are discussed within the context of the ongoing controversy over PTSD Criterion A1.

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