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Traumatic Event


Updated August 26, 2009


People often use the word "traumatic" to describe very stressful life events. However, mental health professionals define a traumatic event in a very specific way, especially when trying to determine whether or not a person may have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a traumatic event as a situation where both of the following occurred:

  • The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event where there was the threat of or actual death or serious injury. The event may also have involved a threat to the person's physical well-being or the physical well-being of another person.

  • The person responded to the event with strong feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.
Also Known As: trauma, traumatic experience, psychological trauma
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