Prevalence and Correlates of Externalizing Behaviors Among Youth Seeking Treatment Following Trauma Exposure

Cody G. Dodd, Francesca Kassing, Lauren M. Alvis, Ryan M. Hill, Julie B. Kaplow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Trauma-exposed youth often experience impairing externalizing problems (EXTs), yet the relationship between EXTs, trauma exposure, and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) are not well understood. To examine the extent of their co-occurrence, we report the rates and correlates of youth EXTs relative to clinically elevated PTSS in a sample of youth referred to a trauma and grief specialty clinic. Method: Self and caregiver-report measures were obtained from 260 youth ages 7–19 years (M = 11.92, SD = 3.21; 53.5% female) during a pretreatment assessment. The sample was divided into 4 groups according to the youths’ PTSS and EXT score elevations, and these groups were then compared according to rates of youth depressive symptoms, youth suicidal ideation, and caregiver strain. Results: The 4 groups were comorbid PTSS and EXTs (18%); EXTs-only group (36%); PTSS-only group (13%), and subclinical symptom group (34%). The comorbid PTSS and EXTs group had the highest scores on all other child and caregiver symptom measures. Compared to the subclinical group, youth in the PTSS-only group had increased depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation, whereas youth in the EXTs-only group had elevated levels of caregiver strain. Conclusion: Co-occurring PTSS and EXTs is a common presentation among trauma-exposed youth referred to treatment. These youth are also likely to suffer from other problems of clinical concern, including suicidal ideation, and their problems are associated with caregiver distress. More research is needed to examine unique risk and resiliency factors related to the development of youth EXTs in response to trauma exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S20-S28
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
StatePublished - Feb 24 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • caregiver strain
  • child and adolescent
  • comorbidity
  • externalizing
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology


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