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What do we mean by trauma?

Whist the definition of trauma is ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’, when it comes to diagnosing PTSD there are some more specific criteria that explores trauma further. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by healthcare professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. In its fifth edition, it has updated the criteria for defining trauma in relation to developing PTSD. The manual states that a trauma is when:

You were exposed to one or more event(s) that involved death or threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or threatened sexual violation. In addition, these events were experienced in one or more of the following ways:

  1. You experienced the event
  2. You witnessed the event as it occurred to someone else
  3. You learned about an event where a close relative or friend experienced an actual or threatened violent or accidental death
  4. You experienced repeated exposure to distressing details of an event, such as a police officer repeatedly hearing details about child sexual abuse

Although there are many life events that are difficult and stressful, they may not necessarily lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. However, this does not mean that they are not important or significant and they are still worthy of support in therapy.