Assessing Acute Traumatic Stress Symptoms

Richard A. Bryant

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

Assessing Acute Traumatic Stress Symptoms

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  • Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychological Assessment and Testing



There is significant change in acute stress reactions in the weeks after exposure to a traumatic event, which raises challenges for assessing the responses in the acute posttraumatic period. This chapter reviews the assessment tools and strategies that are appropriate in the acute period. It focuses initially on acute stress disorder (ASD) as a description of acute posttraumatic stress and as a predictor of subsequent PTSD. Psychometrically-validated scales are reviewed for both diagnostic and symptom responses in the acute period, with a critique of the limited ability of these measures to identify most people who are at high risk for subsequent PTSD. Finally, this chapter identifies mechanisms that may enhance our ability to identify maladaptive responses in the acute phase, and specific populations that need particular attention in the immediate period following trauma exposure. The weeks following exposure to a traumatic event are often characterized by considerable distress, fluctuating emotions, and changing environmental factors. This lack of emotional and contextual stability raises significant challenges for assessment of psychological states shortly after trauma. This chapter aims to provide an overview of assessment of psychological responses in the weeks after trauma. It commences with a review of the current evidence about the nature of acute posttraumatic stress reactions and discusses the different goals of assessment at this stage. Established psychometric instruments are then reviewed, including structured clinical interviews, self-report measures, and other tools relevant to acute reactions. The review then turns to other factors that can be assessed, including cognitive and biological factors, occurring in the acute posttraumatic period. Finally, the chapter outlines other procedural issues that need to be considered when assessing trauma survivors in the acute phase.

Keywords: acute stress disorder; posttraumatic stress disorder; assessment; diagnosis; screening

Article.  9026 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Clinical Psychology ; Psychological Assessment and Testing

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