Exploring the Potential Distinction Between Continuous Traumatic Stress and Posttraumatic Stress in an East African Refugee Sample

Article Authors: Tobias Hecker, Herbert E. Ainamani, Katharin Hermenau, Eva Haefele and Thomas Elbert


Post-traumatic stress (PTS) indicates a continuous stress response that persists though threats to life had been experienced in the past. However, threats to life are frequently ongoing. For these contexts, the concept of continuous traumatic stress (CTS) has been put forward. Based on structured clinical interviews with Congolese refugees (N = 226), this study investigated the CTS concept and whether it can be distinguished from PTS. We found that current exposure to violence correlated positively with concerns about its recurrence in the CTS group (r = .46). An ANCOVA indicated that higher intrusion symptom severity in the PTS group (no symptom reduction under safe conditions) was explained by higher lifetime trauma exposure (?2 = .125). In contexts of continuous trauma exposure, symptom-like responses may be regarded as appropriate responses to realistic danger. In these contexts, the possibility that symptom changes are a response to real threats should be considered to avoid overestimation of PTSD prevalences.

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