Adjustment difficulties & disorders

Adjustment disorder is a clinical diagnosis for one of the most commonly experienced mental health challenges. It occurs when a person experiences distressing emotions or behavior problems in response to a stressful event.

During our lives, we are all exposed to stressful events – conflict in a relationship or moving house, for example. It’s very normal to feel some level of distress following a stressful event. Most of the time, difficult feelings disappear relatively quickly as we adjust.

In the case of adjustment disorder, the distress is more intense and prolonged than what might be typically expected in response to a stressful event.

People with adjustment disorder often struggle with symptoms of depression or anxiety in the months following the stressful event. Symptoms can persist for up to 6 months following the event. During this time, many people find that short-term participation in therapy can help relieve distress.

Prevalence of adjustment disorders

Adjustment disorder is one of the more common mental health diagnoses. A worldwide survey of psychiatrists found that over 50% made the diagnosis at least once per week. (1)

Despite this, it does not appear to be a commonly researched mental health problem and so data about the actual prevalence of the disorder is scarce. The available research suggests that around 1 to 2% of people experience adjustment disorder. (2)

Causes of adjustment disorders

Adjustment disorder is an emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful event. Some examples of stressful events that might trigger symptoms are:

Unlike post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the stressful event associated with the adjustment symptoms may be of any kind of event of any level of severity.

Symptoms of adjustment disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) includes adjustment disorder as a diagnosis in the category of trauma- and stressor-related disorders.

People experiencing adjustment disorder may notice some of the following symptoms in response to something stressful in their lives:

The symptoms may start immediately following the stressful event or up to three months after. They do not persist beyond 6 months after the stressful event.

Types of adjustment disorders

There are different subtypes of adjustment disorder listed in the DSM 5; which are:

What to do if you’re experiencing symptoms of adjustment disorders

There are many things you can do to look after your emotional wellbeing following a stressful life event. Consider a combination of the following strategies to help manage distress:

Therapy types to consider for adjustment disorders

Many treatment options are available for adjustment disorder, so there’s bound to be an approach that fits well with your personal preferences. Click on the links below to explore which might be the best fit for you. Therapy types include:

What to look for in a therapist for adjustment disorders

The best-fitting type of therapist for you depends on individual factors, symptoms, your location and finances. It can be helpful to consider the following factors when choosing one:

Personal fit

One of the most important things to consider is the potential for developing a strong working relationship with your therapist. This relationship is called the therapeutic alliance, and it’s the number one indicator of treatment efficacy.

Qualifications

It can be difficult to choose which type of mental health professional to work with, as there are so many different types. Most will have the skills to assist you in the treatment of adjustment disorder.

The main thing to be certain of is that you look for a currently licensed mental health professional. This will ensure that they have undertaken the relevant education to practice. When browsing through therapists on Zencare, you can rest assured that all of our therapists have already been vetted.

In addition, if there is a particular type of therapy that resonates with you, look for a therapist who has completed additional training in the area. Take a look at therapists’ biographies, as this is often where they note their specializations.

Talk in advance

The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. You can do this with our vetted Zencare therapists. Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

Sources and references

1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3105474/
2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5790100/
3: https://psychiatryonline.org/pb-assets/dsm/update/DSM5Update_October2018.pdf