The 4 main differences between phobia and psychological trauma

Do you know the differences between phobia and psychological trauma? These are two very different psychopathological images, although they both share the fact that the person suffering from them is very upset.

In this article, we will explain what they are and know 4 differences between phobia and psychological trauma, equating psychological trauma to what we know in psychology as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

    Differences between phobia and psychological trauma

    To understand the differences between phobia and psychological trauma, we’ll first explain what each disorder is.

    1. Phobias

    A phobia is disproportionate, irrational, and exaggerated fear of a specific stimulus or situation. The fear is accompanied by avoidance behaviors of the phobic stimulus (or if the phobic stimulus is sustained, this is done with high anxiety).

    You can have a phobia of anything, which is why there are as many phobias as there are stimuli or objects. For example, phobia of spiders, public speaking, driving, being indoors, clowns, etc.

    Phobias are included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as anxiety disorders.

    2. Psychological traumas

    Psychological trauma, on the other hand, they involve the experience, display or observation of extremely shocking events, Which cause a number of dysfunctional and maladaptive symptoms at the physiological, behavioral and psychological level. These events are usually linked to death, serious injury or sexual rape.

    When it comes to psychological trauma, there are a number of mental disorders related to trauma: the best known and most common is PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Thus, the term “psychological trauma”, in everyday language, is generally used to designate PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder); that is why, in this article, we will use the concept of PTSD to refer to psychological trauma.

    That is, we will be using two concepts as comparables / interchangeable, although we have to keep in mind that there may be small variations from their meaning in everyday speech (e.g. someone might talk about psychological trauma to allude to Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) rather than PTSD, ASD is like PTSD but of shorter duration).

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

    As we have seen, the term psychological trauma is often used in common parlance as a synonym for PTSD. But do we really know what PTSD is?

    According to the DSM-5, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves exposure to death, serious injury, or sexual rape; exposure can be direct, by observation, by knowing the event to a family member or friend, or by repeated exposure to the details of the event.

    This exposure causes a number of characteristic symptoms, which are essentially 3: intrusion, avoidance, cognitive and mood disorders and hyperactivation (Reactivity).

    The first symptom, intrusion, is remarkable and usually involves reliving the event through distressing memories or dreams, as well as dissociative reactions, significant psychological distress, and intense physiological reactions.

    An important change in the DSM-5 is that it eliminates the necessary test to respond with intense fear, helplessness or horror faced with such an event, it appeared in the DSM-IV; now this response is not needed, although logically it may continue to appear in PTSD.


      When it comes to the differences between phobia and psychological trauma, we will talk about the 4 most important:

      1. Types of disorders

      The first difference we find is its location (or classification) in psychology reference textbooks, such as the DSM-5.

      So while in said manual phobia is classified as an “anxiety disorder”, PTSD is classified as a “trauma-related disorder or stressor”.

      2. Triggering of the stimulus

      On the other hand, the stimuli (or events) that trigger PTSD or psychological trauma are events related to death (e.g. murder, suicide or traffic accident), sexual violence (e.g. , rape) and serious injuries (eg to the spine). cord injury).

      however, stimuli that generate a phobia are “normal” stimuli, In the sense that they must not cause real damage (although in some cases they can). In other words, they are generally stimuli (for example a storm) or situations of everyday life (for example driving a car, speaking in public …).

      3. Determinants of disorder

      Another difference between phobia and psychological trauma is the key element that determines whether or not the disorder occurs. Because we see it more clearly; in the case of phobia, it is the individual’s response to such a stimulus (which is disproportionate and irrational) that causes a phobia to be diagnosed as such.

      In contrast, in psychological trauma, the DSM-IV considered two elements necessary to diagnose PTSD: on the one hand, a response of intense horror, fear or helplessness to the event on the part of the patient. individual, and on the other hand, the exhibition itself at the event (And that it was stressful). The DSM-5, for its part, modified this criterion and considers necessary only the exposure to the event, and not the response (although it may still appear).

      4. Duration of the disorder

      According to the DSM, the duration of a phobia is at least 6 months; while that of PTSD (or psychological trauma) should be at least 1 month.

      Here we must note that an ASD or acute stress disorder (also considered psychological trauma) can appear, and it lasts from three days to a month (by the time it lasts longer, it already becomes a PTSD).

      Bibliographical references:

      • APA (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Madrid. Panamericana.
      • Belloch, A .; Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of psychopathology. Volume II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
      • Bados, A. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Faculty of Psychology Department of Personality, Psychological Assessment and Treatment.

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