Anxiety & Trauma Lab
At The University of La Verne

Trauma & Related Disorders

Trauma-related disorders are clinical disorders caused by the psychological distress experienced following exposure to a stressful or traumatic event. Trauma-related disorders typicaly refer to disorders that have symptoms directly related to the traumatic experience, but there are a number of clinical disorders that people can experiences following a traumatic event. In order to meet criteria for one of these disorders, people must experience  significant distress from the symptoms or significant impairments in social, vocational, or life functioning. 
While the experience of trauma is upsetting to most people, not everyone who has been through a traumatic life event develops a trauma-related disorder. There is a wealth of research on resilience to traumatic experiences, and even some evidence that some people experience posttraumatic growth following a significant trauma. Not experiencing a clinical disorder following a traumatic experience does not mean that these people are unaffected by trauma, nor does the experience of a clinical disorder after a trauma indicate a weakness or deficiency in that person. There are many factors that play into how people react after a traumatic experience including: charachteristics of the traumatic event, previous history of trauma, genetics, environmental factors, social and emotional suppoprt systems, among countless other factors. There is still a great deal of research that needs to be done to better undestand risk and resilience factors, 

Trauma & Related Disorders

Diagnositc Criteria
Reactive Attachment Disorder 

It is characterized by a consistent pattern of emotionally withdrawn behavior toward adult caregivers (i.e., inappropriate ways of relating socially in various contexts). The social and emotional disturbance experienced by the child must be evident before age 5 years, and the child needs to be at least the age of 9 months in order to qualify for this disorder. Also, the signs and symptoms are not better explained by autism spectrum disorder. 

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Diagnositc criteria for PTSD include a personal history of direct or indirect exposure to a traumatic event (i.e., death, serious injury, physical or sexual violence) that meets the following four symptom clusters: intrusion, aviodance of stimuli, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. The duration of the disturbance needs to last for more than 1 month in order to qualify for PTSD. The physiological effects of a substance or a medical condition cannot be justified as the cause of the disturbance. 
Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

It is characterized by a pattern of behavior in which a child actively approaches and interacts with strangers, such as displaying overly familiar verbal or physical behavior to unfamiliar adults, not checking back with caregiver after venturing away, or showing willingness to go off with an unfamiliar adult without hesitation. Similar to reactive attachment disorder, the child needs to be at least the age of 9 months in order to qualify for this disorder. 
Acute Stress Disorder

The symptoms that define acute stress disorder overlap with those for PTSD. However, this disorder is different than a PTSD diagnosis in terms of the duration. A acute stress disorder diagnosis can only be given if symptoms have lasted for less than one month. 
Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder involves a group of symptoms, including feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and stress as well as physical symptoms that can happen after going through a stressful life event, such as moving to a different home, death of a loved one, or divorce. 
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by intense fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, unstable self image, impulsivity, suicidal behavior/sulf-harm, feelings of emptiness, and emotional instability.  BPD often beings by early adulthood and is thought to be linked to a combonation of environmental and biological factors.  

Empirically-Supported Treatment Options

Cognitive Processing Treatment

Prolonged Exposure

Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD.  In CPT, clients learn to challenge and modify their beliefs related to the trauma they have experienced.  This is done by identifying automatic thoughts (typically these thoughts are self-blaming) and then learning to challenge these thought patterns when they come up.  
Prolonged Exposure Therapy is often used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and encourages individuals to approach, rather than avoid, trauma related emotions, memories, and situations.  Avoidence of trauma related emotions can often reienforce the fear associated with these situations.  
Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) has been shown to reduce symptoms related to trauma and was specifically designed to help treat children and adolescents.  TF-CBT works to reduce maladaptive behavior related to trauma by addressing the thoughts and perceptions around the trauma held by the individual.