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PTSD: National Center for PTSD

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How is PTSD Measured?

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How is PTSD Measured?

Deciding if someone has PTSD can involve several steps. The diagnosis of PTSD is most often made by a mental health provider. To diagnose PTSD, a mental health provider measures, assesses, or evaluates PTSD symptoms you may have had since the trauma.

"You can ask any provider, you can ask your primary care physician. You can even say, "I'd like to be assessed for PTSD.""

Dr. Abigail Angkaw

Clinical Psychologist

To develop PTSD, a person must have gone through a trauma. Almost all people who go through trauma have some symptoms for a short time after the trauma. 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 PTSD Basics.

PTSD Diagnosis can involve several steps, and is most often made by a mental health provider. Please see Types of Therapists for more information about the types of mental health providers who diagnose and treat PTSD.

What is a PTSD screen?

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. The results of the screen do not show whether a person has PTSD. A screen can only show whether this person should be assessed further. Fill out a PTSD self-screen on "What Can I Do if I Think I Have PTSD?"

What can I expect from an assessment for PTSD?

The length of a PTSD assessment can vary widely depending on the purpose as well as the training of the evaluator. While some evaluations may take as little as 15 minutes, a more thorough 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 had since these events. Assessments that are more complete are likely to involve structured sets of questions. You may be asked to complete surveys that ask about your thoughts and feelings. Your spouse or partner may be asked to provide extra information. Although it is uncommon, 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, how long it will take, and how the results of the assessment will be used.

How can I find out if a mental health provider is able to evaluate me for PTSD?

You can ask questions about the provider's training and experience. Here are some questions you might ask: "What is your specialty area?"

Many providers specialize in assessing and treating people who have experienced trauma. Providers who specialize in trauma will likely have expertise in evaluating PTSD. Some providers may specialize in working with certain kinds of trauma survivors. For example, a provider may work with adult survivors of childhood traumas. You may find a provider who specializes in a different trauma area than what you need, or who does not specialize at all. A provider who has experience assessing trauma survivors like you is most likely to have the expertise to do a good job on your assessment. "How many PTSD assessments have you done?"

If possible, find a professional who has experience conducting PTSD assessments. "What formal training have you had that will allow you to evaluate me for PTSD?"

If possible, find a professional who has completed training focused on PTSD assessment. Such providers are preferred over those trained only in general assessment. "What formal training have you had that will allow you to evaluate me for PTSD?"

If possible, find a professional who has completed training focused on PTSD assessment. Such providers are preferred over those trained only in general assessment. "Can you tell me a little about how you assess PTSD?"

You should feel comfortable with the assessment methods that a provider will use. A good assessment of PTSD can be done without the use of any special equipment. Most often, providers will have you fill out surveys or they will use a standard interview in which the provider will read a series of questions from a printed document.

What are some of the common measures used?

There are two main types of measures used in PTSD evaluations:

Structured Interviews

A structured interview is a standard set of questions that an interviewer asks. Some examples of structured interviews are:/p>

  • Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). Created by the National Center for PTSD staff, the CAPS is one of the most widely used PTSD interviews. The questions ask how often you have PTSD symptoms and how intense they are. The CAPS also asks about other symptoms that commonly occur with PTSD.
  • Structured Clinical Interview for DSM (SCID). The SCID is another widely used interview. The SCID can be used to assess a range of mental health disorders including PTSD.

Other interviews include:

  • Anxiety Disorders Interview Schedule-Revised (ADIS)
  • PTSD-Interview
  • Structured Interview for PTSD (SI-PTSD)
  • PTSD Symptom Scale Interview (PSS-I)

Each has special features that might make it a good choice for a particular evaluation.

Self-report Questionnaires

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. An example of a self-report measure is:

An example of a self-report measure is:

  • PTSD Checklist (PCL). The PCL is another widely used measure developed by National Center for PTSD staff.

Other self-report measures are:

  • Impact of Events Scale-Revised (IES-R)
  • Keane PTSD Scale of the MMPI-2
  • Mississippi Scale for Combat Related PTSD and the Mississippi Scale for Civilians
  • Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale (PDS)
  • Penn Inventory for Posttraumatic Stress
  • Los Angeles Symptom Checklist (LASC)

You May Also Be Interested In

Understanding PTSD and PTSD Treatment (PDF)

A complete guide to PTSD basics.

About Face

Hear from Veterans who have turned their lives around with PTSD treatment.

PTSD Coach

Learn about and manage PTSD symptoms.

Get help for PTSD

If you need help right away:

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PTSD Information Voice Mail:
(802) 296-6300
ncptsd@va.gov
Also see: VA Mental Health