Clinicians often rely on clients’ retrospective reports of past symptoms to diagnose and treat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, there is limited research investigating memory for past PTSD symptoms. We asked sexual assault survivors to report their PTSD symptoms and then recall them 6 months later. Overall, symptom recall was consistent with initial reports. However, after dividing participants into PTSD-positive and negative groups, we found that people who were PTSD-negative at follow-up underestimated past PTSD symptom severity while people who were PTSD-positive overestimated past symptoms. For example, 2.8% of PTSD-negative participants versus 15.9% of PTSD-positive participants recalled experiencing 20+ more points on the PCL-5 at follow-up than at initial assessment. Further, people who adjusted over time greatly underestimated past symptoms unlike those who remained PTSD-positive. Our findings have important theoretical and clinical implications because they show that current symptom severity may influence the memory reconstruction of prior levels of adjustment.
- Psychological trauma