Psychologists Sydney / Trauma / Acute Stress Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) is a condition which you may come to experience after you have been involved in a traumatic event. It is classified as an anxiety disorder because it has in common certain psychological reactions with other anxiety related conditions.

Many people experience the symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder as quite debilitating, noticing difficulty with maintaining their normal relationships or work routines. As it can worsen if untreated, in some circumstances treatment by a qualified counsellor or psychologist may be recommended to help the person work through this set of symptoms. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)

Common symptoms of acute stress disorder

The formal criteria for Acute Stress Disorder state that for a diagnosis to be made, you will have been exposed to a traumatic event in which:

• you experienced, witnessed, or were confronted with events which involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to your physical integrity or someone else’s.
• Your response included intense fear or a sense of helplessness.

Also, during or after the experience, you must show three (or more) of the following symptoms, which are called dissociative symptoms:

• A sense of feeling numb, detached from the world or others, or as if your normal emotional responses are absent.
• A decrease in your awareness of your surroundings (for instance getting a sense that you are in a daze ).
• Derealisation (a sense that things around you are ‘unreal’).
• Depersonalisation (a sense that you are not quite ‘real’).
• Dissociative amnesia (that is not being able to remember some important parts of the traumatic situation).
• You re-experience some of the traumatic event in one or more of the following ways: repeated images, dreams, thoughts, , flashbacks, or a feeling that you are again going through the experience.
• When you come across a physical reminder of the trauma you feel as if you are reliving the trauma.
• You try to avoid triggers that cause you to remember the trauma (e.g., people, places, songs, sounds, ideas).
• You feel anxiety or increased arousal (like difficulty sleeping, feeling irritable, trouble concentration, being “on edge”, hyper-vigilant, easily startled, or restless).

Also, these symptoms cause you to feel significantly distressed or impaired in your ordinary social, work, or other important areas of functioning.

The symptoms last for at least 2 days and at most 4 weeks and they begin within 4 weeks of the traumatic event. (If you develop these symptoms later on, or they last longer than 4 weeks, you may wish to look up our information on PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

The symptoms must not have been caused directly by your use of a drug, nor by a brief psychotic episode or another pre-existing mental disorder.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a traumatic event and you  feel professional counselling may be indicated, you can call Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney and book an initial consultation to discuss the benefits of further treatment or to seek further information.

These criteria are reproduced in summary form from the “American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.


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