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Psychological Adjustment DisorderThe Psychology Service
Adjustment Disorder

What is an Adjustment Disorder?

An Adjustment Disorder is, as the name suggests, a problem of adjusting to a stressful event or one of a threatening nature. The diagnosis is not made just for general difficulties in adjusting to life but rather, where associated symptoms are of sufficient severity to interfere with the persons’ daily functioning, i.e. that their work, relationships or some other important aspect of their life is markedly affected.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of an Adjustment Disorder can be anxiety, depression or both. There can also be some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but not the full range. The diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder is only made when the presenting symptoms are of insufficient intensity or range to meet the criteria for another diagnosis such as Depression or PTSD.

How long does it last?

A diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder is generally only applicable for a period of six months after the termination of a traumatic or stressful event. However, this timescale can be longer if, for example, the triggering event is prolonged, e.g. if the person has had to deal with very stressful after-effects of an accident, such as ongoing pain and disability. In such cases a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder can be made for as long as the stressor remains present.

What is the treatment?

CBT is mostly used. The precise techniques used will depend on the pattern of symptoms, and on the nature of the adjustment problem. For example if the adjustment reaction is mostly associated with a depressive response then CBT techniques used for depression would be the treatment of choice. If symptoms overlap with those related to a traumatic response, such as intrusive imagery then other trauma related techniques such as EMDR may be utilised.

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