The Relationship between Cognitive Coping Styles and PTSD in Survivors of Traffic Accidents

By Defago, Jennifer | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, May 2009 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Cognitive Coping Styles and PTSD in Survivors of Traffic Accidents


Defago, Jennifer, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Traffic accidents have widespread effects, causing 1.2 million deaths and 50 million injuries globally each year. Victims of accidents may expe- rience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with 34% affected by symptoms immediately after the accident and 14%-i8% affected 6-9 months after the accident. In a 2007 study, Stallard and Smith explored factors that may impact the severity of PTSD reactions in children who have survived traffic accidents.

Previous studies have found certain variables that are related to significant PTSD reactions. Some of these variables include age, gender, type of accident, and severity of injury. Other factors that have been found to have an association with PTSD are parental involvement in the accident and trauma history, with previous accident experiences predicting fewer symptoms. In addition, higher levels of posttraumatic symptoms are associated with several cognitive factors, including subjective appraisals of threat, appraisals of the trauma resulting in significant negative consequences, and maladaptive coping including thought suppression and rumination.

One cognitive model in particular that has been effective in describing potential sources of PTSD was described by Ehlers and Clark (2000). This model proposes PTSD symptoms arise from processing of the traumatic event in away that leads to a sense of current threat. Stallard and Smith (2007) used this model as a framework to investigate cognitive appraisals and coping styles associated with severity of PTSD symptoms in children following a traffic accident. Seventy-five children who were involved in traffic accidents were interviewed 8 months following the accident. The participants had an average age of 14 years. The children were assessed using the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale for Children, an instrument that assessed the frequency and intensity of the 17 diagnostic criteria of PTSD in the DSM-IV. In addition, a scale that measured the degree of distress felt following a specific traumatic event was administered.

Three cognitive dimensions were assessed in the context of this study: (a) trauma memory, (b) trauma appraisal measures, and (c) cognitive coping strategies. Included in the trauma appraisal measures were ratings of stressor severity, alienation from other people, negative interpretation of symptoms, injustice, impressions of permanent change, and heightened sense of future danger. …

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