PTSD Criteria

Author:  Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC  

verified by Psychology Today

PTSD criteria

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, occurs in approximately 8.7% of the population over their lifetimes according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5. PTSD can have social, occupational, interpersonal, developmental, physical and economic consequences. It is more prevalent among females due to the increased risk females have to exposure of traumatic events. It is estimated that 68 million women will be victimized in their lifetimes according to research presented in Meichenbaum’s PTSD: Ways to Bolster Resilience.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a set of symptoms arising from exposure to a traumatic or stressful event. The distress that follows this exposure varies from individual to individual. You can develop PTSD from emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, violence or exposure to violence, assault, war, natural disasters, and accidents among other life threatening or perceived life threatening events. Symptoms usually start in the first few months after the traumatic incident but onset can be longer.

Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD symptoms are generally recurrent, involuntary and intrusive. PTSD flashbacks can be experienced as temporarily losing touch with your present surroundings when triggered by some reminder of the traumatic event. You may experience distressing dreams that replay the event. Also, intense physiological responses or hyper-vigilance occur when experiencing any sensory trigger related to the event.

Complex PTSD From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering From Childhood Trauma, Pete Walker What is PTSD?

Chronic PTSD

Chronic PTSD also includes the persistent avoidance of similar memories, thoughts or reminders associated with the event, as well as a disruption in memory around the trauma. An increase in negative thoughts about yourself or others, or a persistent negative emotional state begins after exposure to trauma. Negative emotional states include anxiety, guilt, anger, shame and grief. For some survivors, changes in reactivity can begin after the event such as angry outbursts, reckless behavior or problems with concentration and sleep. Chronic PTSD or exposure to traumatic events significantly decreases a person’s ability to regulate emotional states and maintain stable interpersonal relationships.

Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image and the Capacity for Relationship, Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline Lapierre, PsyD

Living with PTSD

Living with PTSD can feel uncertain and out of control at times. Sensory, emotional, physiological and cognitive aspects of your being are affected. Flashbacks can be very brief or last days. The trigger can be known or of unknown origin. Victims of trauma often blame themselves or others for the event and begin to have persistent negative thoughts and feelings. Symptoms can increase unexpectedly when exposed to reminders of trauma.

Healing From Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life, Jasmin Lee Cori, MS, LPC

Trauma therapy with a qualified psychotherapist will help you to understand how trauma is affecting your day to day life, and move you toward PTSD recovery. For more information on trauma counseling and coping with PTSD, join my newsletter to be notified when the next article, Can PTSD Be Cured? is published.

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PTSD Screening Tool

This screening tool will help you determine if you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.  This tool is not intended to diagnose PTSD but to serve as a reference to discuss with a counselor or primary care provider.  This assessment is entirely confidential and the results will be emailed to you.

Below is a list of problems associated with stressful and/or traumatic events.  Indicate using the 1-5 scale of severity how much you have been bothered by the problem in the past month:

1. Repeated, disturbing memories, thoughts, or images of a stressful experience from the past.
2. Repeated, disturbing dreams of a stressful experience from the past.
3. Suddenly acting or feeling as if a stressful experience were happening again (as if you were reliving it).
4. Feeling very upset when something reminded you of a stressful experience from the past.
5. Having physical reactions (e.g., heart pounding, trouble breathing, sweating) when something reminded you of a stressful experience from the past.
6. Avoiding thinking about or talking about a stressful experience from the past or avoiding having feelings related to it.
7. Avoiding activities or situations because they reminded you of a stressful experience from the past.
8. Trouble remembering important parts of a stressful experience from the past.
9. Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy.
10. Feeling distant or cut off from other people.
11. Feeling emotionally numb or being unable to have loving feelings for those close to you.

Feeling as if your future will somehow be cut short.


Trouble falling or staying asleep.


Feeling irritable or having angry outbursts.


Having difficulty concentrating.


Being "super-alert" or watchful or on guard.


Feeling jumpy or easily startled.

This is not intended to diagnose or to replace the care of a health care professional.  This is a screening measure to help you determine whether you might have Post Traumatic Stress disorder.   Source: Weathers FW, et al. (1994). PCL-C for DSM-IV. Boston: National Center for PTSD, Behavioral Science Division. 

CO-OCCURRING DISORDERS PROGRAM: SCREENING AND ASSESSMENT.  Document is in the public domain. Duplicating this material for personal or group use is permissible.

Email required to send results.