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Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders are extremely common. A psychological adjustment disorder is characterized by the development of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms (such as, depression, anxiety, school behavior problems, fighting, work problems, academic problems, social conflicts or withdrawal, or physical complaints), in response to a specific stressor or stressors within your environment.

To put it simply, if you are experiencing significant stress, and because of that stress you develop psychological symptoms that are greater than what might be expected, given the stress, and this causes impairment in some major life functioning, then you have an adjustment disorder. Major life functioning would include school adjustment, work adjustment, social adjustment, legal difficulties, family adjustment or physical health.

Stressors can be almost anything, such as the ending of a relationship, or a marriage, being terminated from your job, a family member developing a serious illness, being forced to relocate by your job, natural disasters such as hurricanes or floods, living in a crime-ridden area, becoming a crime victim, becoming a parent, getting married, etc. These events cause some stress in almost everyone.

However, when stress causes clinically significant symptoms to develop, or interferes with your ability to cope with ongoing life management tasks, then you may have an adjustment disorder.

There are different types of adjustment disorders, according to the symptoms that develop. These include: with depressed mood; with anxiety; with mixed emotional response; with conduct disturbance; with mixed emotional problems and conduct disturbance; and unspecified.

Some other factors distinguish psychological adjustment disorders from everyday stress and other emotional problems. First, if another psychological problem can be diagnosed that accounts for the symptoms, then it is not an adjustment problem. For example, if a person loses their job and becomes extremely depressed, then Major Depression would be the diagnosis, not an Adjustment Disorder, with depressed mood. Second, the symptoms should go away within six months, once the stressor has disappeared. If a person lost their job two years ago, and is still depressed about it, even though they have found another comparable job, then there is another problem besides an adjustment disorder.

Dr. Franklin provides psychological treatment for adjustment disorders, and adjustment disorders respond very well to psychological treatment. Counseling or psychotherapy, desensitization, stress management training, and family or couple therapy are the preferred treatment choices, depending on the stressor and the psychological symptoms that develop.

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