PTSD: Is Post Traumatic Stress Defined Too Broadly?

Image courtesy of the VA Research on PTSD.

A British university professor of psychology tells Salon that the definition of post traumatic stress  disorder (PTSD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is too broad. Stephen Joseph disagrees with lumping more common human experiences like car crashes with experiences like  “Vietnam or the Holocaust.”

In his new book, “What Doesn’t Kill Us,” the professor of psychology, health and social care at the University of Nottingham (in the U.K.) warns that our culture’s acceptance of PTSD has become excessive and has led to an over-medicalization of experiences that should be considered part of ordinary, normal, human experience. This has kept us from proactively working through our grief and anxiety: We’ve become too quick to go to the shrink expecting him to fix us, rather than allowing ourselves the opportunity to grow and find new meaning in our lives as a result of painful, but common, events.

Joseph acknowledged that that people can experience emotional pain because of a traumatic event and then go through “periods of avoidance and intrusion,” but he said that’s natural.

PTSD is when those experiences become so overwhelming that the person can’t function anymore –

Joseph advocates that people use their experiences of more common traumatic events as an opportunity to grow and prioritize their lives. You can read the full Salon interview with Joseph HERE.

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2 Responses

  1. Not looking to stir the pot (no really, this is a serious question), but I wonder where he stands on child abuse and/or neglect. Should those be categorized as normal human experiences.

    The fact my father raped me for my childhood and adolescence is just something I should grieve and not bother looking for healthcare for? Just because I managed to get through my childhood without killing myself, someone else or splitting myself into multiple parts does that make my PTSD less real

    Did I have the same experiences as a war veteran who lost a limb or saw hundreds of people killed? No. But does that make my PTSD less real?

    It’s been a good long while (about 12 years) since I took psychopathology, but isn’t there a criterion in the DSM that symptoms must be present for at least 6 months before a dx of PTSD can be made. Sorry, don’t have a DSM in Korea (not needed to teach ESL) but isn’t there a more time limited form of the disorder? I can’t recall the name off the top of my head.

    I’m very serious in asking. It seems to me like a step backward rather than a step forward in treating and validating these people’s experiences.

    • Dear Katm,
      I value your comments and in posting this I did not mean to “stir the pot” either. But, it’s important to know what people are discussing and writing about even if it’s controversial.

      I cannot speak for the professor, however, I don’t think his premise would qualify childhood rape as a “normal” human traumatic experience, or that he would discourage you from seeking medical treatment or that your experience is any less real. He is just questioning if the pendulum has swung too far including far more common traumatic experiences as part of PTSD.

      If individuals such as yourself remain vigilant, I don’t believe society will “step backward” when it comes to recognizing and helping those with PTSD. If anything, an open discussion may improve understanding.

      Thank you for taking time to respond, your insights are helpful to all readers.
      Bobbie O’Brien

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