Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) is a very serious anxiety disorder that generally develops after one has seen or experienced anything that can result in severe psychological trauma. As a result of that trauma, a person’s inability to cope with what they witnessed may ultimately lead to this condition in which sufferers are continuously incapable of coming to terms with what they have seen.

As per the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, here is what the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL) looks like:

The PCL is a 17-item self-report or post traumatic stress disorder checklist measure of the 17 DSM-IV symptoms of PTSD. The PCL has a variety of purposes, including:

  • Screening individuals for PTSD.
  • Diagnosing PTSD.
  • Monitoring symptom change during and after treatment.

There are three versions of the PCL:

  1. The PCL-M (military) asks about symptoms in response to "stressful military experiences." It is often used with active service members and Veterans.
  2. The PCL-C (civilian) asks about symptoms in relation to "stressful experiences." The PCL-C is useful because it can be used with any population. The symptoms endorsed may not be specific to just one event, which can be helpful when assessing survivors who have symptoms due to multiple events. Typically, it is optimal to assess traumatic event exposure to ensure that a respondent has experienced at least one Criterion A event.
  3. The PCL-S (specific) asks about symptoms in relation to an identified "stressful experience." The PCL-S is useful because the symptoms endorsed are clearly linked to a specified event. Typically, it is optimal to assess traumatic event exposure to ensure that the event meets Criterion A. Respondents also may be instructed to complete the PCL-S in reference to a specific type of event.

Administration and scoring

The PCL is a self-report measure that can be completed by patients in a waiting room prior to a session or by participants as part of a research study. It takes approximately 5-10 minutes to complete a PCL. Interpretation of the PCL should be completed by a clinician.

The PCL can be scored in different ways:

A total symptom severity score (range = 17-85) can be obtained by adding the scores from each of the 17 items.

A diagnosis can be made by:

  1. Determining whether an individual meets DSM-IV symptom criteria, i.e., at least 1 B item (questions 1-5), 3 C items (questions 6-12), and at least 2 D items (questions 13-17). Symptoms rated as "Moderately" or above (responses 3 through 5) are counted as present.
  2. Determining whether the total severity score exceeds a given cutpoint (see Table 1).
  3. Combining methods (1) and (2) to ensure that an individual has sufficient severity as well as the necessary pattern of symptoms required by the DSM.


Characteristics of a respondent's setting should be considered when using PCL severity scores to make a diagnosis. The goal of assessment also should be considered. A lower cutoff should be considered when screening or when it is desirable to maximize detection of possible cases. A higher cutoff should be considered when attempting to make a definitive diagnosis or to minimize false positives.


US Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD


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