DOI: 10.1002/jts.23005 ISSN: 0894-9867

The Middle‐Out Approach to reconceptualizing, assessing, and analyzing traumatic stress reactions

Shane W. Adams, Christopher M. Layne, Ateka A. Contractor, Maureen A. Allwood, Chérie Armour, Sabra S. Inslicht, Shira Maguen
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


Alternative models of traumatic stress and broader psychopathology have been proposed to address issues of heterogeneity, comorbidity, clinical utility, and equitable representation. However, systematic and practical methods and guidelines to organize and apply these models remain scarce. The Middle‐Out Approach is a novel, integrative, contextually informed framework for organizing and applying existing empirical methods to evaluate current and alternative traumatic stress reactions. Rather than beginning to identify traumatic stress reactions from the top‐down (i.e., disorder‐first approach) or bottom‐up (i.e., symptom‐first approach), constructs are evaluated from the middle out (i.e., presentation‐first approach), unconstrained by higher‐order disorders or lower‐order diagnostic symptoms. This approach provides innovation over previous methods at multiple levels, including the conceptualization of traumatic stress reactions as well as the type of assessments and data sources used and how they are used in statistical analyses. Conceptualizations prioritize the identification of middle‐order phenotypes, representing person‐centered clinical presentations, which are informed by the integration of multidimensional, transdiagnostic, and multimodal (e.g., psychosocial, physiological) assessments and/or data sources. Integrated data are then analyzed concurrently using person‐centered statistical models to identify precise, discrete, and representative health outcomes within broader heterogeneous samples. Subsequent variable‐centered analyses are then used to identify culturally sensitive and contextually informed correlates of phenotypes, their clinical utility, and the differential composition within and between broader traumatic stress reactions. Examples from the moral injury literature are used to illustrate practical applications that may increase clinical utility and the accurate representation of health outcomes for diverse individuals and communities.

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