Youth Trauma Histories are Associated with Under-diagnosis and Under-treatment of Co-occurring Youth Psychiatric Symptoms

Emily M. Becker-Haimes, Katherine Wislocki, Stephen DiDonato, Rinad S. Beidas, Amanda Jensen-Doss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: We examined whether in the presence of trauma exposure, non-traumatic stress-related symptoms are interpreted by mental health clinicians as less salient than the trauma exposure and are de-emphasized as a treatment target, consistent with a diagnostic overshadowing bias. Methods: Using an adapted version of a diagnostic overshadowing bias experimental paradigm, mental health clinicians (N = 266, M age = 34.4 years, 82% female) were randomly assigned to receive two of six clinical vignette variations. Vignette 1 described an adolescent with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Vignette 2 described a pre-adolescent with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Vignettes were identical except for whether the youth reported exposure to a potentially traumatic event (PTE; no PTE, sexual PTE, or physical PTE). Clinicians received one vignette with a PTE and one without, counterbalancing order. Clinicians rated the likelihood the youth met criteria for various diagnoses and the appropriateness of various treatments on 7-point scales. Results: Across both vignettes, clinicians rated the target diagnosis (OCD in Vignette 1, ODD in Vignette 2) as less likely for vignettes with a PTE than for the same vignettes without a PTE. Clinicians also rated evidence-based treatment modalities for target diagnoses as less appropriate in the presence of a PTE than when a PTE was present. Conclusions: Consistent with possible bias, clinicians may under-recognize and under-treat non-traumatic stress-related mental health symptoms in youth with a co-occurring trauma history. Future work to validate this bias in real-world practice is indicated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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