The Diagnostic Accuracy of the PTSD Checklist: A Critical Review

Clin Psychol Rev. 2010 Dec;30(8):976-87. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.06.012. Epub 2010 Jul 6.

Abstract

The PTSD Checklist (PCL) is the most frequently used self-report measure of PTSD symptoms. Although the PCL has been in use for nearly 20 years and over a dozen validation studies have been conducted, this paper provides the first comprehensive review of its diagnostic utility. Eighteen diagnostic accuracy studies of the PCL are presented, followed by an examination of the potential roles of spectrum effects, bias, and prevalence in understanding the variation in sensitivity, specificity, and other operating characteristics across these studies. Two related issues as to the interchangeability of the PCL's three versions (civilian, military, and specific) and various scoring methods are also discussed. Findings indicate that the PCL has several strengths as a PTSD screening test and suggest that it can be a useful tool when followed by a second-tier diagnostic test such as a standardized interview. However, the PCL's operating characteristics demonstrate significant variation across populations, settings, and research methods and few studies have examined such factors that may moderate the PCL's utility. Recommendations and cautions regarding the use of the PCL as a clinical screening test, a diagnostic tool in research, and as an estimator of PTSD population prevalence are provided.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Checklist*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology