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The Danish Center of Psychotraumatology


The age of exposure to a traumatic event can potentially have a significant impact on the development of PTSD and contribute to complex traumatisation. While prolonged childhood traumatisation affects personality structures, identity and self-regulation processes, prolonged adult traumatisation is suspected of potentially altering or impairing existing self-regulation processes.

On this page you can find a number of studies that have examined age in a variety of contexts related to trauma.


Background: The STEPS programme has been succesfully implemented as a group-based treatment of trauma symptoms after rape for adolescents. The STEPS intervention was translated from Dutch to Danish and offered to adults in addition to adolescents as well as an individual intervention in addition to a group-based intervention at a Danish Centre for Rape Victims through 2011 to 2014. The programme was translated from Dutch to Danish and expanded to adults in addition to adolescents as well as to an individual intervention in addition to a group-based intervention at a Danish Centre for Rape Victims through 2011 to 2014. Objective: The present study observes development in trauma symptoms and ICD-11 diagnostic status during an adapted version of the intervention programme ‘STEPS’ for survivors of sexual assault. Methods: A prospective uncontrolled study was conducted, monitoring symptoms of posttraumatic stress and other trauma-related symptomatology before treatment, after treatment and at 6 and 12 months' follow up for 103 referrals receiving individual or group-based STEPS. Tentative diagnoses of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD were assigned to participants according to the ICD-11 to observe the development in diagnostic status across time, and multilevel modelling was used to assess the development of symptom severity and to assess the moderating effect of age-group and mode of delivery. Results: A loglinear function representing large and statistically significant decline in symptomatology over time provided the best fit for all measures of trauma-related symptomatology. The decline was not moderated by age-group or mode of intervention. Dropout rates were independent of mode of intervention and age. Conclusion: The adaption of the STEPS programme to adults and as an individual intervention is feasible and maintains effect sizes comparable to those observed in the original intervention. Further research using randomized controlled trials is needed to ascribe the observed effect to the STEPS programme.


Vang, M.L., Ali, S.A., Christiansen, D.M., Dokkedahl, S., & Elklit, A. (2020). The role of age and mode of delivery in the STEPS intervention: a longitudinal pilot-study in treatment of posttraumatic stress symptoms in Danish survivors of sexual assault. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 11:1, 1701778. Doi: 10.1080/20008198.2019.1701778


The aim of the study was to examine the combined effect of gender and age on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in order to describe a possible gender difference in the lifespan distribution of PTSD. Data were collected from previous Danish and Nordic studies of PTSD or trauma. The final sample was composed of 6,548 participants, 2,768 (42.3%) men and 3,780 (57.7%) women. PTSD was measured based on the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, part IV (HTQ-IV). Men and women differed in lifespan distribution of PTSD. The highest prevalence of PTSD was seen in the early 40s for men and in the early 50s for women, while the lowest prevalence for both genders was in the early 70s. Women had an overall twofold higher PTSD prevalence than men. However, at some ages the female to male ratio was nearly 3:1. The highest female to male ratio was found for the 21 to 25 year-olds. The lifespan gender differences indicate the importance of including reproductive factors and social responsibilities in the understanding of the development of PTSD.


Ditlevsen, D. N. & Elklit, A. (2010). The Combined Effect of Gender and Age on Posttramatic Stress Disorder: Do Men and Women Show Differences in the Lifespan Distribution of PTSD? Annals of General Psychiatry, 9:32. Doi:10.1186/1744-859X-9-32.

The ICD-11 proposes different types of prolonged trauma as risk factors for complex PTSD (CPTSD). However, CPTSD's construct validity has only been examined in childhood abuse, and single trauma exposure samples. Thus, the extent to which CPTSD applies to other repeatedly traumatized populations is unknown. This study examined ICD-11's PTSD and CPTSD across populations with prolonged trauma of varying interpersonal intensity and ages of exposure, including: 1) childhood sexual abuse, 2) adulthood trauma of severe interpersonal intensity (refugees and ex-prisoners of war), and 3) adulthood trauma of mild interpersonal intensity (military veterans, and mental health workers). In support of the proposal, latent class analysis (N = 820) identified, a 4-class solution representing "PTSD", "CPTSD", and "non-pathological" classes, but also an "Anxiety symptoms" class, and an alternative 5-class solution, with a "Dissociative PTSD-subtype" class. ICD-11's CPTSD was not exclusively associated with childhood abuse, but also with exposure to adulthood trauma of severe interpersonal intensity. Furthermore, all types of prolonged trauma were equally associated with the "Anxiety symptoms" class. Finally, of all the classes, the "CPTSD" class was associated with the highest frequency of work-related functional impairment, indicating an association between the severity of prolonged trauma exposure and the level of posttraumatic residues.


Palic, S.; Zerach, G.; Shevlin, M.; Zeligman, Z.; Elklit, A. & Solomon, Z. (2016): Evidence of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) across populations with prolonged trauma of varying intensity and ages of exposure. Psychiatry Research 246, 692–699. Doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.10.062

Background: Studies of specific groups such as military veterans have found that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is linked to adverse health outcomes including unhealthy weight. The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between PTSD symptoms, experiences of childhood trauma and weight in a community sample. Methods: A stratified random probability survey was conducted in Denmark by the Danish National Centre for Social Research between 2008 and 2009 with 2,981 participants born in 1984, achieving a response rate of 67%. The participants were interviewed with a structured interview with questions pertaining PTSD symptomatology, exposure to childhood abuse, exposure to potentially traumatizing events, height, and weight. Underweight was defined by a body mass index (BMI) <18.5, overweight was defined by a BMI ≥25 and <30 and obesity was defined by a BMI ≥30. Results: PTSD symptomatology and childhood abuse were significantly associated with both underweight and overweight/obesity. Childhood emotional abuse was especially associated with underweight, whereas sexual abuse and overall abuse were particularly associated with overweight/obesity. Conclusion: These findings indicate that health care professionals may benefit from assessing PTSD and childhood abuse in the treatment of both overweight and underweight individuals.


Roenholt, S., Beck, N. N., Karsberg, S. H & Elklit, A. (2012). Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms and Childhood Abuse Categories in a National Representative Sample for a Specific Age Group: Associations to Body Mass Index. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 3: 17188. Doi:10.3402/ejpt.v3i0.17188


Last Updated 30.06.2023