Psychotic Features. Psychotic manifestations following trauma include delusional thinking, various hallucinations, disorganized thought process, confusion, poor reality contact and other formal thought disorders (Beck and van der Kolk, 1987; Kolb, 1989). These characteristics differ from the psychosis indicative of other disorders, however. Posttraumatic psychotic features are often reactive in nature and frequently reflect aspects of the original trauma experience. Conversely, the transient psychotic symptoms in borderline personality disorder may escalate into a full-blown psychosis when stress mounts.
Depressive features. Depression is a common posttraumatic response (Helzer et al., 1987; Levitan et al., 1998). Helplessness, hopelessness, poor concentration, lack of interest, insomnia, suicidal feeling, and other symptoms and vegetative signs are common in both types of depression. However, posttraumatic depression is directed more externally (e.g., war, society, other people) and less internally (e.g., self blame). Anger toward others and feeling that "somebody has to pay" is one of the common features of posttraumatic depression. Although many patients experience substantial mood changes -- such as mood swings or mild elation -- in the aftermath of trauma, these are often not clinically significant enough to justify classification as a distinct affective disorder.
Anxiety and panic features. Anxiety and panic episodes are other symptoms commonly associated with trauma (Helzer et al., 1987; Winfield et al., 1990). Many individuals suffer from panic reactions at the time of initial trauma. Subsequent panic episodes are a reflection of the original trauma and may be responsible for the psychopathogenesis of other posttraumatic symptoms, such as terror, paralyzing fear, palpitation, breathlessness and dizziness, as well as a feeling of impending doom, that are common to posttraumatic patients. In this aspect, panic is a core symptom of the posttraumatic spectrum, setting in motion a vicious circle of retraumatization (Jung, 2001; Shea et al., 2000; Silva et al., 2000).
Dissociative features. Dissociative disorders are primarily associated with trauma (Blake-White and Kline, 1985; Goodwin et al., 1979), and almost 80% of patients with multiple personality disorder have a sexual abuse history (Ross et al., 1989). Since dissociation seems to be one of the core defense mechanisms against the severe pain of sexual or nonsexual traumas, it is imperative for future research to determine whether dissociative disorders are exclusively related to trauma. I believe dissociative disorders are more appropriately classified as a subgroup of the posttraumatic spectrum than as a unique Axis I category. It is important to note that dissociation does not occur in generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (Blake-White and Kline, 1985). In multiple personality disorder, the patient's repression is grossly inadequate to deal with the trauma. The numbing, detachment and denial cannot be sustained. The thinly disguised, barely repressed trauma explodes through the inadequate adoption of a change in personality.
Borderline features. The correlation between borderline personality disorder and sexual trauma has been well-documented (Barnard and Hirsch, 1985; Gelinas, 1983; Goodwin et al., 1990). Other personality disorders as well have been attributed to trauma (Goodwin et al., 1990; Shea et al., 2000; Zanarini et al., 1998). In borderline personality disorder, the repression is more successful and the coping character becomes more sustainable.
Other clinical features. Other psychiatric manifestations, including self-mutilation, pyromania, substance abuse, and sexual dysfunction and/or sexual identity disorders, are often seen among the victims of sexual trauma and require special diagnostic and therapeutic attention (Liskow et al., 1986; Winfield et al., 1990; Wonderlich et al., 2000).
The original concept of PTSD was born out of battle trauma or other physical trauma, and these manifestations closely match the current diagnostic criteria of DSM-IV. Psychiatric symptoms following sexual trauma are increasingly appearing, however, and the diagnostic significance of this shift needs to be investigated (Kendler et al., 2000). Battle trauma frequently occurs during early adulthood when the victim is more mature and presumably better equipped to handle the trauma inflicted by an identified offender. Sexual abuse more often occurs during the vulnerable period of childhood, and the perpetrator is often a close relative. Sexual trauma is therefore unique in that it affects the child's basic trust and subsequent psychosexual development.Summary
The term posttraumatic stress disorder was introduced in an attempt to classify psychiatric sequelae that arise from the experience of severe trauma. However, the magnitude and complexity of the psychiatric disorders caused by trauma are such that current classification systems (including DSM-III, DSM-III-R, DSM-IV and ICD-10) are grossly inadequate to be of use scientifically. My hope is that the reorganization suggested here will lead to further research, more accurate diagnosis and more appropriate treatment for our traumatized patients.