The evolution of PTSD criteria across editions of DSM

Carol S North, Alina M Suris, Rebecca P. Smith, Richard V. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has remained controversial from the time of its first inclusion in DSM-III. No reviews have fully documented the shifting PTSD definitions across editions of the criteria. This article chronicles the evolution of PTSD across editions of the DSM.

METHODS: Diagnostic precursors to PTSD in DSM-I and DSM-II were briefly described, followed by systematic review of PTSD in subsequent editions of the DSM. Sections of the criteria and accompanying text were sorted into tables permitting visual comparisons across the editions. Research findings related to specific changes in the editions were provided from available research literature identified through specific PubMed searches using keywords relevant to each specific change.

RESULTS: Fundamental topics of debate identified in this review are validity of the diagnosis, the trauma criterion, the role of symptoms in defining its psychopathology, differentiation from other disorders, and specifiers such as delayed onset.

CONCLUSIONS: DSM-5 has corrected several major ambiguities and errors of the former editions that are fundamental to the construct of PTSD as a disorder that is defined conditionally in relation to exposure to trauma, but problems remain in DSM-5 trauma criteria, especially inconsistencies between exposure criteria and the definition of trauma. Discerning the critical distinctions required to understand PTSD depends on underlying clarity in terminology and precision in application of the diagnosis by academicians and clinicians. Trauma must be differentiated from other kinds of stressful events and conceptualized as an incident defined by physical injury rather than by emotional response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-208
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of clinical psychiatry : official journal of the American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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