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Can J Psychiatry. 1999 Feb;44(1):21-33.

Individual differences in posttraumatic distress: problems with the DSM-IV model.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia.



To evaluate the evidence concerning the role of threatening life events in accounting for clinically significant posttraumatic stress responses.


Research was examined to review the epidemiology, evidence of dose-response relations, and individual difference factors in accounting for variations in conditions, including posttraumatic stress disorder, after exposure to threatening events.


The evidence is significantly discrepant from the clinical Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) model. Greater distress arises from individual differences than from event characteristics. Important individual differences that interact with threat exposures include trait negative affectivity (neuroticism); beliefs about emotions, the self, the world, and the sources and consequences of danger; and prevent acts, disorders, and intelligence. Reasons for the discrepancies between the evidence and the current model of posttraumatic distress are proposed.


In accounting for responses to threatening life events, the relatively minor contribution of event qualities compared with individual differences has significant treatment implications. Treatment approaches assuming that toxic event exposure creates a posttraumatic disorder fail to consider individual differences that could improve treatment efficacy.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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