When Traumatic Event Exposure Characteristics Matter: Impact of Traumatic Event Exposure Characteristics on Posttraumatic and Dissociative Symptoms

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Objective: Traumatic events can lead to posttraumatic (posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] specific symptoms) and dissociative symptoms (PTSD nonspecific symptoms). However, the trauma exposure characteristics (type of exposure, categorical form, number of exposures and the age of the exposure) are rarely studied. We hypothesized that the characteristics of a traumatic event are the only predictors of specific posttraumatic symptoms (intrusion, avoidance, negative cognitive impairment) and nonspecific symptoms (dissociation). We also hypothesized that some characteristics of a traumatic event are specific predictors of posttraumatic symptoms, whereas other characteristics are predictors of nonspecific symptoms. Method: Three hundred nine university students participated in the study (201 men, 108 women; mean age : 19.32 years). Students completed questionnaires assessing trauma exposure characteristics, PTSD, dissociation, and burnout. Multiple linear regressions were conducted to identify predictive factors for elevated specific PTSD symptoms and elevated nonspecific PTSD symptoms. Results: A different impact of the characteristics of 1 or more traumatic events was observed on specific posttraumatic symptoms. In men, the model was significant, with 6 predictors explaining 14% to 23% of the variance of specific posttraumatic symptoms. In women, 2 predictors explaining 15% to 28% of the variance of posttraumatic symptoms were found. The characteristics of the traumatic event were not the only predictors of posttraumatic symptoms (specific and nonspecific), with emotional exhaustion playing an unexpected predictive role. Conclusions: Burnout and PTSD might share emotional exhaustion as a common risk factor for PTSD. Further studies in this area are warranted, noteworthy focusing on clinical populations.

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