Defining Traumatic Events: Research Findings and Controversies

Jesse R. Cougle, Dean G. Kilpatrick and Heidi S. Resnick

in The Oxford Handbook of Traumatic Stress Disorders

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780195399066
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Defining Traumatic Events: Research Findings and Controversies


Since the posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis was introduced in the DSM-III (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1980) controversy has existed over what constitutes a Criterion A stressor, or a potentially traumatic event. Such definitions have considerable research, clinical, and legal implications. In this chapter, we review the history of Criterion A, conditional risk of PTSD associated with specific stressors, and situational and demographic variables likely to increase risk of PTSD. Significant attention is given to the controversies surrounding Criterion A, as well as limitations of extant research. We conclude with specific recommendations for future inquiry with particular emphasis on the importance of comprehensive assessment of Criterion A stressor exposure and PTSD assessment that captures the effects of exposure to more than one Criterion A stressor.

Keywords: traumatic events; posttraumatic stress disorder; risk factors; diagnostic and statistical manual; criterion a; diagnosis

Article.  12951 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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