Research Areas and Projects: PTSD

Although most people experience trauma during their lifetime, only about a third of these individuals develop serious psychological problems like PTSD. We wanted to determine how the number of traumatic events and different ways of coping predicted PTSD symptoms. We found that in an undergraduate population, the number of traumatic events was a significant predictor of current PTSD symptoms. Of the nine ways of coping measured, only experiential-avoidant coping was predictive of current PTSD symptoms (Hetzel-Riggin, 2007). Similar to our findings with coping, individuals who experienced interpersonal trauma reported significantly more symptoms of PTSD than survivors of other types of trauma (Roby, 2010). PTSD has also been suggested as a predictor of retraumatization, as people who have experienced a traumatic event are at an elevated risk of experiencing another trauma. We demonstrated that only posttraumatic stress disorder arousal symptoms played a role in the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual abuse, suggesting that higher levels of posttraumatic arousal in female childhood sexual abuse victims may interfere with discrimination and response to situation-specific danger cues (Risser, Hetzel-Riggin, Thomsen, & McCanne, 2007).

PTSD is the disorder most commonly associated with trauma, yet very little research was conducted about its structure and associated features before it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980. Recent research has suggested that its current diagnostic utility is somewhat limited, and researchers have investigated other symptom presentations that may be more representative of the disorder. We tested the structure of PTSD in five different samples of women survivors of IPV. A four factor model that includes the symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance, dysphoria, and hyperarousal provided the best fit for the data and was consistent across trauma populations. (Hetzel-Riggin, 2009). Similar results hold true across ethnic groups, while differences in symptom variance occur between genders (Hetzel-Riggin & Harbke, 2014).

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