The University of Sussex

Post-traumatic symptomatology in a non-clinical population: the effects of stressor characteristics and coping on intrusive and avoidant thoughts

Angus S. McDonald, Graham C.L. Davey

The prevalence of intrusive and avoidant phenomena were assessed in response to recent stressful events, as were the coping responses used to deal with these events. Although the majority of events reported would not generally be considered to meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, a considerable degree of intrusive and avoidant phenomena was observed. The perceived stressfulness of the event was found to be the best predictor of intrusive thoughts and psychological distress, with intrusions being the best predictor of avoidant thoughts. Intrusions did not diminish with time since the event, but psychological distress did. The use of emotion-focused coping was an independent predictor of intrusive and avoidant thoughts and psychological distress. It is suggested that the use of emotion-focused coping may impair processing of stressful events, leading to sustained intrusive and avoidant phenomena through processes such as rumination. Considering the high level of what are generally considered to be post-traumatic symptoms observed here, it is suggested that these symptoms are normal reactions to stressful events but it is the content of intrusive thoughts which may be important in determining their effects.

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