Trauma Exposure and Psychopathology: Racial and Ethnic Differences in Symptom Presentation among a Clinical Sample

Shauna Balch, Pace University


Culture shapes how an individual experiences, understands, expresses, and addresses emotional and mental distress. It is not the single most important variable but a contributing factor that influences the complexities of psychological processes. Therefore the approach to many psychological methods cannot necessarily be generalized without taking into account a person's cultural background. Nonetheless there have been inconsistent findings in cross-cultural studies that have examined racial/ethnic differences and the associations between trauma and psychological symptoms. This study aimed to contribute to this area of research and examined racial/ethnic differences in exposure to trauma and psychological symptoms, as well as racial/ethnic differences in the associations of trauma with psychological symptoms. Specifically, symptoms of anxiety, anxiety-related disorders, depression, somatic complaints, and number of traumatic events were examined among an ethnically diverse clinical sample at an urban-based clinic. The sample consisted of 330 European Americans, 88 Latino Americans, 85 Black/African Americans, 33 Asian Americans, and 95 individuals who identified as another race/ethnicity. The majority of the sample identified as female (n = 450, 71.3%), and 181 (28.7%) as male. Results revealed that African American and Asian American participants experienced higher rates of traumatic events compared to European and Latino Americans. In the overall sample, number of types of traumatic events was positively and significantly associated with symptoms of anxiety related disorders, depression, and somatic complaints, but was not associated with symptoms of anxiety. Interaction analyses indicated number of traumatic events experienced was positively and significantly associated with anxiety-related disorders for all participants with the exception of Latino participants. While a marginally significant trend toward a negative association was found between number of traumatic events experienced and anxiety symptoms among Latino participants, but not for other participants. Limitations and implications of these findings for further research regarding diagnostic accuracy, the quality and effectiveness of treatment, and preventive services for racial/ethnically diverse populations are discussed.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Balch, Shauna, "Trauma Exposure and Psychopathology: Racial and Ethnic Differences in Symptom Presentation among a Clinical Sample" (2015). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3664441.



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