Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40)

Learn about the Trauma Symptom Checklist created by John Briere, Ph.D. and Marsha Runtz, Ph.D. Download a free PDF template here.

By Matt Olivares on Jul 15, 2024.


Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What is trauma?

Trauma, in the context of mental health, is what mental healthcare professionals describe as emotional and psychological scars. These scars are left on people in the wake of specific experiences or situations that they’ve gone through. These experiences/situations are often described by those who were in or have witnessed them as overwhelming, distressing, harrowing, and horrifying.

Examples of such experiences and situations include being sexually assaulted, accidentally running over and killing a pedestrian, losing your home to a natural disaster, or being forced to flee your home because of a war.

Trauma makes it difficult for people to cope with what happened to them, and it makes it challenging to work through these experiences and move on. Traumatized people will also likely have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is a complex mental health problem.

PTSD is characterized by multiple symptoms, with each one varying from person to person. Examples of symptoms include intense feelings of loneliness and sadness, being prone to having nightmares and losing sleep, becoming indifferent and losing interest in many things, gaining the tendency to isolate oneself, and having thoughts of self-harm.

Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) Template

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Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) Example

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How to use the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40)

The Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) is a research tool developed by John Briere, Ph.D. and Marsha Runtz, Ph.D. Its purpose is to act as a self-report measure that zooms into symptoms of post-traumatic stress in traumatized patients as a result of childhood or adult experiences.

It is a 40-item checklist (hence the TSC-40), with each number corresponding to a specific symptom of post-traumatic stress. Please note that it doesn’t cover all symptoms, though.

To use this checklist, researchers must do the following:

  • They must gather respondents with trauma/post-traumatic stress.
  • They must ask respondents to rate each listed symptom based on how often they’ve experienced each in the last two months/

They can either hand a copy of the checklist to a respondent or recite each symptom to the respondent and indicate their rating. Whichever way they administer this checklist, the respondent must pick a rating between 0 and 3. 0 means “never,” while three means “often.”

Here are examples of items you’d see on this checklist:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss (without dieting)
  • Flashbacks (sudden, vivid, distracting memories)
  • Spacing out (going away in your mind)
  • Trouble controlling your temper
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Not feeling rested in the morning
  • Desire to physically hurt yourself
  • Feeling that you are not always in your body

How is the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) scored?

The Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) is a research tool. It’s not a validated psychological test for diagnosing people with PTSD and treatment planning. While it does have scoring, no score ranges or definitions exist.

The lowest score is 0, and the highest is 120.

This version of the Trauma Symptom Checklist also has six subscales:

  • Dissociation (Items 7, 14, 16, 25, 31, 38)
  • Anxiety (Items 1, 4, 10, 16, 21, 27, 32, 34, 39)
  • Depression (Items 2, 3, 9, 15, 19, 20, 26, 33, 37)
  • SATI, or Sexual Abuse Trauma Index (Items 5, 7, 13, 21, 25, 29, 31)
  • Sleep Disturbance (Items 2, 8, 13, 19, 22, 28)
  • Sexual Problems (Items – 5, 9, 11, 17, 23, 29, 35, 40)

How these are interpreted will depend on the angle of your research.

When is the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) used?

When conducting trauma-related research

As mentioned several times, the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) by Briere and Runtz is a research tool. If you are conducting trauma-related research, this checklist might be helpful depending on your angle and thesis.

Many research papers, especially from the 90s, have used the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) to validate specific angles. If your research can benefit from using the checklist, by all means, use it.

When traumatized people want to understand themselves better

People who agree to become respondents for trauma research can take the opportunity to reflect on themselves based on their traumatic experiences and what they’ve been going through since those unfortunate happenings. 

By attending research sessions for trauma and the TSC-40 is used as a way to gather information, they can take a step back and think about how their trauma symptoms affect them, significantly how often they are affected by each one within the past two months (this is the time range indicated by the checklist).

What are the benefits of using the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40)?

It can help validate particular research angles and fortify these

Since this is a research tool, the checklist has the potential to support specific research angles and help build solid arguments to defend theories proposed and established in dissertations. As we’ve mentioned earlier, a lot of research material used the checklist. 

An example would be the research paper Trauma Symptoms and PTSD-like profiles in perpetrators of intimate violence by D.G. Dutton from 1995. This one made use of the TSC-40 to predict the perpetration of intimate violence.

It can help determine if a respondent should undergo a comprehensive examination and therapy

Even if this tool is not a test, it can at least record how often a respondent deals with trauma symptoms. If the score is high, let’s say over 50% for the total score and all the subscales, it might be best for the researcher to recommend to the patient to see a mental healthcare professional so they can undergo official trauma and PTSD symptom testing, get an official diagnosis, and get the treatment they need.

Is the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) a diagnostic tool?
Is the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) a diagnostic tool?

Commonly asked questions

Is the Trauma Symptom Checklist (TSC-40) a diagnostic tool?

No. It is a research tool. It’s not meant to analyze respondents for potential PTSD or anything officially. Under no circumstance should this be used to diagnose people with PTSD.

Since the checklist is a research tool, what specific tools can I use for comprehensive assessments of traumatized patients?

Tools like the Potential Stressful Events Interview (PSEI), Trauma History Questionnaire (THQ), and Moral Injury and Distress Scale (MIDS) can be used in a comprehensive assessment of a traumatized patient.

I’m not a researcher or mental healthcare professional. Am I allowed to use this tool?

You may download this tool and use it to reflect on your experiences and symptoms of trauma and post-traumatic stress, but please make sure not to self-diagnose yourself with PTSD. If you think your scores are concerning, please see a professional so that you can be properly diagnosed and get the treatment you need.

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