Adjustment Disorders

March 13, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Adjustment disorders can occur when a person experiences an unusual amount of stress in response to a specific situation such as a loss, a problem with an interpersonal relationship, an unwanted move or other lifestyle disruption, or a disappointment or failure.  Adjustment disorders may occur in adults or children and are short-term and non-psychotic in nature.

 Typical symptoms of adjustment disorders include: 

  • Low mood, sadness
  • Worry, anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling trapped, like there are no good options, isolated and cut off from others

When a child or adolescent experiences an adjustment disorder, he or she commonly exhibits: 

  • Depressed/irritable mood
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Poor school performance

Therapy for Adjustment Disorders

 Due to the fact that adjustment disorders tend to be time-limited, psychotherapy is generally the preferred treatment. The type of therapy depends on the stressor, but the types to consider include: 

  • Psychotherapy
  • Crisis intervention
  • Family and group therapies
  • Support groups specific to the stressor (such as a grief or loss support group)
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy

Goals of therapy might include: 

  • Problem-solving – identifying and attempting to minimize the stressor
  • Clarifying and interpreting the meaning of the stressor to the patient
  • Reframing the meaning of the stressor – thinking of the stressor differently
  • Illuminating the concerns and conflicts related to the stressor
  • Identifying means of reducing the stressor
  • Maximizing the patient’s coping skills, such as emotional self-regulation, and avoidance of maladaptive coping techniques such as substance use
  • Helping patients gain perspective, establish relationships, mobilize support and manage themselves and the situation

A doctor may also choose to treat symptoms associated with the adjustment disorder with medication. An example of this would be a sleep medication to help with insomnia.


Reference: Adjustment Disorders by Medscape Reference.


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