An analysis of early developmental trauma in social anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder

Bishop, Melanie ; Rosenstein, David ; Bakelaar, Susanne ; Seedat, Soraya (2014-05)

CITATION: Bishop, M., Rosenstein, D., Bakelaar, S. & Seedat, S. 2014. An analysis of early developmental trauma in social anxiety disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annals of General Psychiatry, 13(1): 16, doi:10.1186/1744-859X-13-16.

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Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Background: The early contributions of childhood trauma (emotional, physical, sexual, and general) have been hypothesized to play a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The aim of this study was to assess childhood trauma differences between PTSD and SAD patients and healthy controls, as measured by the Early Trauma Inventory. Methods: We examined individuals (N = 109) with SAD with moderate/severe early developmental trauma (EDT) (n = 32), individuals with SAD with low/no EDT (n = 29), individuals with PTSD with EDT (n = 17), and healthy controls (n = 31). The mean age was 34 years (SD = 11). Subjects were screened with the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI), Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS), Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS), and Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). Analysis of variance was performed to assess group differences. Correlations were calculated between childhood traumas. Results: Although not statistically significant, individuals with PTSD endorsed more physical and sexual childhood trauma compared with individuals with SAD with moderate/severe EDT who endorsed more emotional trauma. For all groups, physical and emotional abuse occurred between ages 6 and 11, while the occurrence of sexual abuse in individuals with PTSD was at 6–11 years and later (13–18 years) in individuals with SAD with moderate/severe EDT. For emotional abuse in all groups, the perpetrator was mostly a primary female caregiver; for sexual abuse, it was mostly a nonfamilial adult male, while for physical abuse, it was mostly a caregiver (male in PTSD and female in SAD with moderate/severe EDT). Conclusions: The contribution of childhood abuse to the development of PTSD and SAD and the differences between these groups and other anxiety disorders should not be ignored and attention should be given to the frequency and severity of these events. The relationship of the perpetrator(s) and the age of onset of childhood abuse are also important considerations as they provide a useful starting point to assess impact over the life course. This can, in turn, guide clinicians on the optimal timing for the delivery of interventions for the prevention of PTSD and SAD.

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