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The DSM-III/III-R definitions of trauma

Traumatic Experiences In the field of mental health, the word ‘‘trauma’’ generally connotes a wide range of intensely stressful experiences that involve exposure to levels of danger and fear that exceed normal capacity to cope. In the DSM-III and DSM-III-R, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defined trauma as an event that is ‘‘outside the range of usual human experience’’ and likely to ‘‘evoke significant symptoms of distress in most people.’’ The DSM-III/III-R definitions of trauma were based on the notion that most people exposed to catastrophic, but presumably uncommon, events such as rape, war, torture, or natural disaster would be likely to show signs and symptoms of serious psychological distress.
However, subsequent research on the prevalence of exposure to potentially traumatic events in the general population showed that exposure to such events is much more common than assumed. Indeed, a majority of adults experiences at least one potentially traumatic event over the course of a lifetime. Furthermore, research clearly shows that the majority of persons exposed to such experiences does not develop significant symptoms of psychological distress or impairments in their everyday functioning. Clearly, the DSM-III/III-R conceptualization of trauma as an unusual rare event that would elicit extreme distress in most people begged reconsideration.

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