For Experts

  • A psychologically traumatic event is a stressful event that may cause psychological trauma.
  • Exposure to certain types of psychologically traumatic events are included in the DSM and ICD criteria for the diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. 
  • The terms are often preceded by the word “potentially” to underscore the importance of individual perception within a specific context when determining whether an event is a psychologically traumatic stressor.
  • Examples include significant threats of harm to the self or loved ones, exposure to war as a combatant or civilian, threatened or actual physical assault, threatened or actual sexual violence, being kidnapped, being taken hostage, torture, natural or human-made disasters, or other mechanisms of severe physical injuries such as motor vehicle accidents and industrial accidents.
  • Exposure to a potentially psychologically traumatic stressor can be direct (e.g., happened to me; witnessed it first hand) or indirect/vicarious/secondary (e.g., witnessed the aftermath; learned about the trauma happening to a loved one, or as part of providing support or care to another person, either professionally or personally).
  • Not everyone exposed to a potentially psychologically traumatic event or stressor develops psychological trauma.
  • Most critical incidents would be potentially psychologically traumatic events, but not all potentially psychologically traumatic events would be critical incidents.

For General Public

  • Things that can cause psychological trauma like Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and other types of mental health conditions. 
  • The terms are often preceded by the word “potentially” to underscore the importance of individual perception within a specific context when determining whether an event is a psychologically traumatic stressor.
  • There is often an element of significant threat to the physical safety of the self or others that may be associated with feelings of intense fear, horror, or helplessness.
  • Examples may include some adverse childhood events, motor vehicle accidents, sexual and other types of violence, unexpected death or threat of death of loved ones, severe physical injury, military combat, natural disasters, or exposure to bodies or environmental hazards.
  • Most critical incidents would be potentially psychologically traumatic events, but not all potentially psychologically traumatic events would be critical incidents.

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