Usefulness of the Perceptual Alteration Scale

By Brack, Catherine J.; McCarthy, Christopher J. et al. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview
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Usefulness of the Perceptual Alteration Scale


Brack, Catherine J., McCarthy, Christopher J., Brack, Gregory, Hill, Michele B., Lassiter, Pamela S., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


This study investigated the Perceptual Alteration Scale (PAS) as a measure of dissociation in a college counseling center population by examining its relationship to the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES), a well-known measure of dissociation, abuse, symptoms of depression, panic attacks, and substance abuse. A university counseling center collected information on abuse history, symptomatology, and PAS and DES scores from 650 students. Scores were significantly correlated among instruments and PAS scores could be significantly predicted by childhood and adulthood abuse, adulthood sexual abuse and all other symptoms measured. The PAS appears to be a useful measure of affective dissociation with this population.

Usefulness of the Perceptual Alteration Scale

Interest in dissociation has increased in recent years. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) defined dissociation as "a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception." (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 519). A simpler explanation is that dissociation is a splitting off from external surroundings and internal thoughts, feelings, memories, and sometimes pain, which usually occurs in traumatic situations and continues afterwards for some people (Meichenbaum, 1994). Thus, parts of the self are not available to the whole person (Turner & Diebschlag, 2001). This process of splitting off helps individuals to cope with events and feelings that might otherwise be overwhelming to the individual, particularly in childhood. Dissociation occurs on a continuum ranging from full awareness of experiences to varying degrees of dissociation, the most extreme form being Dissociative Identity Disorder (Braun, 1988a & 1988b). Although a number of theoretical factors have been assumed in dissociation, empirical descriptions have been somewhat limited (Ray & Faith, 1995). One attempt by Braun (1988a & 1988b) suggested that dissociation involved disruption in four areas: Behavior, Affect, Sensation, and Knowledge (BASK).

The development of objective instruments for assessing dissociative symptoms is important both for research and clinical applications. The availability of reliable and valid instruments for measuring dissociation permits investigations of the nature and incidence of dissociation among various populations and allows clinicians to intervene. It is important to intervene in the dissociative process for several reasons. First, individuals who dissociate are often detached from parts of themselves and from other people (Turner & Diebschlag, 2001). This lack of connection with themselves and others, although once a coping mechanism, can interfere with relationships and with healthy functioning. second, it is evident from the literature that dissociation is related to a number of other issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and abuse history. Given the fact that clients may not spontaneously disclose related clinical disorders such as childhood sexual abuse, recognizing the detachment associated with dissociation is one way to access these traumatic events (Stinson & Hendrick, 1992). Dealing with these traumatic events can decrease dissociation and other symptomatology, such as depression and anxiety.

Two measures of dissociation are the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) (Bernstein & Putnam, 1986) and the lesser-known Perceptual Alteration Scale (PAS) (Sanders, 1986). Both the DES and the PAS are self-report scales. The DES measures memory, awareness and cognition, disturbances in identity, and feelings of depersonalization (feeling outside of and an observer of one's own body and actions) (Bernstein & Putnam, 1986; Fischer & Elnitsky, 1990), while the PAS measures modifications of control, cognition, affect, and sensory and perceptual experiences (Sanders, 1986). These two scales appear to be related with a moderate correlation between the factors for the two scales in college students (Fischer & Elnitsky, 1990) and between the scores in Vietnam veterans (Branscomb, 1991).

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