What to Expect During the PTSD Diagnosis Process

An interview and a physical can help make the diagnosis

Man talking to his psychologist
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Many people do not know about the procedures involved during the PTSD diagnosis process. If you have experienced a traumatic event and think that you have PTSD, it is very important that you meet with a mental health professional. Only such a professional can diagnose you with PTSD

The Diagnosis Procedure

A mental health professional or clinician will most often conduct an interview with you to determine whether or not you meet the criteria for PTSD.

This interview generally involves specific questions that explore whether you have the different symptoms of PTSD. The clinician may also inquire as to the frequency and intensity with which you experience particular symptoms.

The clinician may also conduct an interview with you to determine whether or not you have any other psychological disorders, such as past/current depression, a substance use disorder, another anxiety disorder or a personality disorder like borderline personality disorder. The clinician may also ask about any family history of mental illness.

In addition to the interview, you may be asked to fill out questionnaires that get at symptoms of depression or how you tend to cope with stress.

Finally, a clinician may also want you to meet with a doctor to get a physical. The purpose of this is to rule out any physical condition that is contributing to your symptoms.

The interview will likely span across several meetings.

To get the most accurate diagnosis, it is important for the clinician to ask a lot of questions. It is also important for you to be as honest as possible in answering those questions.

Common Concerns About the Process

Some people may be concerned about having to "re-live" their trauma during the interview.

Clinicians are very much aware of this concern. To make a diagnosis of PTSD, the clinician does need to know some facts about the traumatic event. However, clinicians generally will not require you to go into explicit detail about what happened during your traumatic event.

Instead, they will ask you about the type of event that occurred (e.g., natural disaster, rape, combat). They will also ask about your emotional response during and after the event. They likely will also want to know some basic facts about the event, such as:

  • How old were you when it happened?
  • Was it one event or multiple events?
  • Were there any other people involved?
  • Did the event happen directly to you or did you just witness it happening?

It is important that you communicate with your clinician. If you feel as though you are unable to discuss the event or if you feel as though it is making you too upset to do so, definitely tell the person you are meeting with. The clinician's goal is not to overly distress you.

The clinician may also inquire about other past traumatic events you experienced.

This is important information in that it has been found that having multiple traumatic events may increase risk for the development of PTSD. Again, they likely will not ask you to go into detail about these events, but they will ask you some basic questions about them.

Finally, if you are in a relationship with someone, the clinician may ask to speak to your partner. Knowing how someone else perceives your symptoms or how you've changed as a result of a traumatic experience can be invaluable information. However, it is completely up to you as to whether or not your clinician speaks to your partner. The information that you provide in session is completely confidential.

In the end, the most important thing for you to remember is that to make the best diagnosis, you must communicate with your clinician and be honest about what you are experiencing. A good and accurate diagnosis leads to more effective treatment.

Source:

Ozer, E.J., Best, S.R., Lipsey, T.L., & Weiss, D.S. (2003). Predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder and symptoms in adults: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 52-73.

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