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A Comparison of Life Threat and Betrayal as Risk Factors for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder




Kelley, Lance

Type of Degree





Life threat has been underscored as the primary etiological factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSM-III, APA, 1980). However, recent theoretical work suggests that other aspects of trauma may be relevant to the etiology of PTSD. Betrayal stands out from this literature as a pertinent, discrete, and complementary etiological factor. This study examined life threat and betrayal as risk factors for the development of PTSD. One-hundred-eighty-two participants who reported experiencing a traumatic event were assessed with four well-validated self-report measures of PTSD symptomatology and a life threat and betrayal inventory. Results indicated a strong association between betrayal and PTSD and a modest association between life threat and PTSD. These results indicate that both life threat and betrayal are relevant factors in the etiology of PTSD and contribute to an emerging literature that suggests betrayal may impact the development of psychological symptoms following trauma exposure.