College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


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Department/Program Conferring Degree



posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, adolescents, teenagers, diagnostic criteria


This dissertation expands research regarding the types of stressors associated with PTSD among adolescents. The study utilized a broad sample of youth who were specifically queried regarding traumatic stressors and their perception of risk of death or serious injury associated with these experiences in order to examine the current DSM-IV PTSD criteria A. The impact of other significant life stressors generally recognized to fall outside the PTSD A1 criterion but that may be perceived or experienced as traumatic through the developmental lens of adolescence were also explored. The inclusion of multiple types of trauma and indicators of repeated trauma allowed preliminary exploration of differential presentation between adolescents reporting simple trauma and those reporting complex or repeated traumatic stressors. These analyses are important to advance our understanding of the adequacy of the current DSM-IV PTSD criteria A for adolescents as well as point towards developmental variations to incorporate into future diagnostic criteria. The findings generally support the differentiation of potentially traumatic stressors as defined by the current DSM-IV PTSD criterion A1 from major life stressors unrelated to injury or loss of life. Findings also suggest that previous and/or cumulative exposure to traumatic stressors may be a key factor in the development of adolescent PTSD symptoms, and that endorsing fear of serious injury or death is associated with increased symptoms of PTSD among adolescents. These findings support the PTSD criteria A1 definition of a traumatic stressor with respect to adolescent populations. The study recommends further research on stressors that can potentially fall within or outside of the DSM-IV PTSD criteria A and increased attention to adolescent culmulative traumatic stress experiences.