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What Are the Different PTSD Scales?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Feb 10, 2024
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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) scales might be used to diagnose the condition or screen for symptoms in children and adults. The Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) represents the most commonly used tool to measure the severity of symptoms and level of impairment. The Dimension of Stressful Events Scale (DOSE) might analyze a brief exposure to trauma, while the Posttraumatic Stress Diagnostic Scale (PDS) can evaluate how symptoms change over time. Various PTSD scales designed specifically for children include the Child Behavior Checklist PTSD Scale (CBCL-PTSD) and the Angie/Andy Child Rating Scale.

Scales used to diagnose or screen for the disorder typically must meet criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be considered valid. The manual serves as a guide for psychiatrists and psychologists who diagnose a wide range of mental illnesses. It outlines physical and mental symptom for each type of disorder and criteria to gauge the severity of symptoms, and defines levels of functioning that might be affected.

CAPS PTSD scales identify a number of symptoms that hinder a patient’s ability to function socially or in the workplace. These scales measure the intensity of symptoms and how often they occur, ranging from never to several times a day. A corresponding standard score accompanies each question on an exam. Intensity of symptoms is evaluated by the level of distress experienced by a patient, ranging from no distress at all to total inability to continue normal activities.

In addition to the CAPS scale, the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale might be used to determine a person’s level of disability. These PTSD scales rank disability as mild, moderate, or serious. Total scores derived from this evaluation reveal whether the disorder causes occasional symptoms that do not interfere with daily life, if the patient suffers impairment in certain circumstances, or if disability affects all areas of functioning.

The PDS tool represents a short diagnostic test that might be repeated over time to assess whether symptoms improve or get worse. It can be administered in a group setting or for individual patients. This is one of the PTSD scales designed for civilians, and might include computer questionnaires, along with pen-and-paper surveys. PDS testing might pinpoint the source of trauma in its initial stage so treatment can begin early.

PTSD scales used with children typically include versions for very young patients and for older children. The Angie/Andy rating scale employs cartoons to measure a youngster’s feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and other emotions. Behavioral checklist scales might enable evaluation of preschool youngsters, with questionnaires completed by parents. These PTSD scales typically screen children who suffer physical or sexual abuse, or serious injuries.

Post-traumatic stress might develop after a person faces exposure to combat, violence, or natural disaster. After the event, a patient might experience flashbacks of the occurrence, which could affect his or his ability to function normally. The patient might feel fear or a sense of doom long after the event resolves. The Impact of Events Scale measures how quickly a person might recover from trauma.

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