South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is used by psychologists and psychiatrists as a framework for the treatment of sexually abused children. It is valuable in identifying the existence of specific behaviours that should be addressed in therapy. PTSD describes symptoms which are characteristic in many cases of sexual abuse but it is important to note that it does not apply to all sexually abused children. PTSD can sometimes appear many years after the original event. A diagnosis of PTSD is often used in court reports e.g. for applications for Criminal Injuries Compensation. The criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD are:

  1. The person has experienced an event that is outside the range of usual human experience and that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone.
  2. The re-experiencing of the trauma in at leastone of the following ways:
    1. Recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event.
    2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event.
    3. Sudden acting or feeling as if the event were recurring e.g. "flashback" episodes, hallucinations, illusions.
    4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to events that symbolise or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
  3. A numbing of responsiveness or reduced involvement in the external world some time after the trauma, indicated by:
    1. Diminished interest in activities and/or
    2. Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others and/or
    3. Constricted affect e.g. unable to have loving feelings or to feel anger.
  4. In addition, at leasttwo of the following sets of symptoms must be present:
    1. Hyperalertness or being easily startled.
    2. Sleep problems.
    3. Guilt about surviving or behaviour required to survive.
    4. Problems with memory or concentration.
    5. Avoidance of activities that arouse recollection.
    6. Intensification of symptoms if events symbolise or resemble the traumatic event.

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