Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Cameo Borntrager

Commitee Members

Christine Fiore, James Caringi


adolescents, children, complex trauma, developmental trauma disorder, PTSD, trauma, youth


University of Montana


The current definition of a ‘traumatic event’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition—Text Revision (DSM—IV TR; APA, 2000) may be too narrow to describe the myriad of difficult experiences that many youth undergo. Furthermore, youth may develop a distinct pattern of symptoms in relation to complex trauma, that is, when multiple stressful experiences occur or when an experience occurs chronically. It is argued that these children are likely to develop the proposed “developmental trauma disorder” (DTD; van der Kolk, 2005). The present study examined a new measure of childhood trauma exposure through a two-fold process. First, items were developed that assess for exposure to potentially traumatic experiences (PTEs) that may not typically be considered according to the diagnostic rubric of the DSM-IV TR. Two item formats were used in order to explore potential differences in reporting: closed-ended and open-ended questions. Second, three experimental questions describing symptom clusters defined by van der Kolk (2005) were administered. Participants were 186 eighteen and nineteen year olds who were asked to report retrospectively on their difficult childhood experiences. They were asked to complete an established measure of trauma exposure and half of the sample was asked to complete the PTE questionnaire with the closed-ended item format, while the other half was asked to complete the open-ended items. It was hypothesized that participants who completed the PTE questionnaire with the open-ended item format would report significantly more stressful experiences. It was also predicted that the participants who reported multiple or chronic stress events would be more likely to endorse symptoms associated with DTD, regardless of item format. The results were inconsistent with the first hypothesis, in that participants who completed the PTE questionnaire with closed-ended items were more likely to report stressful experiences than participants who completed the closed-ended questionnaire. However, the results supported the second hypothesis in that participants who reported multiple or chronic events were more likely to endorse symptoms associated with DTD. This study has implications for the diagnosis and treatment of trauma experiences in youth.



© Copyright 2012 Molly Kathleen McDonald