To develop PTSD, a person must have gone through a trauma. Almost all people who go through trauma have some symptoms as a result. Yet most people do not get PTSD. A certain pattern of symptoms is involved in PTSD. There are four major types of symptoms: re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal, and negative changes in beliefs and feelings. To learn more about these symptoms, see What is PTSD? (en Español).
Deciding if someone has PTSD can involve several steps. The diagnosis of PTSD is most often made by a mental health provider. Please see Types of Therapists for more about the types of mental health providers who diagnose and treat PTSD.
A person who went through trauma might be given a screen to see if he or she could have PTSD. A screen is a very short list of questions just to see if a person needs to be assessed further. A positive screen does not mean a person has PTSD. A positive screen means that this person should be assessed further. Fill out a PTSD self-screen on "What Can I Do if I Think I Have PTSD?" (en Español).
Assessments for PTSD can vary widely depending on their purpose as well as the training of the evaluator. The evaluator needs to assess the effect a trauma has had on your life. He or she can then judge whether treatment for PTSD is needed. While an interview may take as little as 15 minutes, the most common evaluation takes about one hour. Some PTSD assessments can take eight or more one-hour sessions. This is more likely when the information is needed for legal reasons or disability claims.
You can expect to be asked questions about events that may have been traumatic for you. You will be asked about symptoms you may have as a result of these events. Assessments that are more complete are likely to involve structured sets of questions. You may be given psychological tests on which you record your thoughts and feelings. Your spouse or partner may be asked to provide extra information. You may also be asked to go through a test that looks at how your body reacts to mild reminders of your trauma.
No matter what your case involves, you should always be able to ask questions in advance. The evaluator should be able to tell you what the assessment will include. You can also ask what information the professional expects to get from the assessment.
There are two main types of measures used in PTSD evaluations.
A structured interview is a standard set of questions that an interviewer asks. Some examples of structured interviews are:
Other interviews include:
Each has special features that might make it a good choice for a particular evaluation.
A self-report questionnaire is a set of questions, usually printed out, that you are given to answer. This kind of measure often takes less time and may be less costly than an interview. These measures provide a single score to measure the amount of distress a person has.
An example of a self-report measure is:
Other self-report measures are:
For more information about PTSD assessment, please see FAQs about PTSD Assessment.