February 24, 2023

PCL-5: Helping You Deliver Evidence-Based Care for PTSD

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At SonderMind, we’re focused on delivering high-quality, measurement-based care tailored to our clients’ individual needs, so they can start to feel better, faster. At the heart of our measurement-based care approach are clinical questionnaires (CQs). 

In addition to using the PHQ-9, GAD-7, Therapeutic Alliance, and the Functional Assessment CQs, SonderMind providers are now also using the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5) CQ to deliver effective, feedback-informed care. 

Read on to learn how the PCL-5 can be used to help deliver effective care to clients who have experienced trauma.  

Use the PCL-5 to better identify PTSD symptoms 

An estimated 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. The PCL-5 can help make sure people experiencing PTSD symptoms get an accurate diagnosis and the care they need to manage their symptoms and improve their well-being.

If you’re a provider who specializes in trauma work with adults or work with military-involved and veteran clients, the PCL-5 is a valuable tool to help you assess the presence and severity of PTSD symptoms, and can support you in making a provisional diagnosis of PTSD. That being said, the PCL-5 should not be used as a stand-alone diagnostic tool. 

When considering a diagnosis, it’s necessary to use good clinical decision-making with a thorough assessment of the client’s history, current symptoms, and reasons for seeking treatment. It’s recommended to consider using a structured interview tool like the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5, known as “CAPS-5”. The CAPS is the gold standard in PTSD assessment.

How to score the PCL-5 

The PCL-5 is a self-report measurement tool that helps identify the presence and severity of PTSD symptoms. Items on the PCL-5 correspond with DSM-5 criteria for PTSD, and include 20 questions that ask clients how bothered they’ve been in the past month or past week. Clients rate each of the 20 questions on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 0-4: 

  • 0 = Not at all
  • 1 = A little bit
  • 2 = Moderately
  • 3 = Quite a bit
  • 4 = Extremely

Items are then summed to provide a total severity score ranging from 0-80. 

Currently, there are no scientifically set severity ranges for the PCL-5, but it is commonly accepted for providers to reference a score of 31 and above as suggestive of a diagnosis of PTSD. SonderMind aligns with this recommendation for interpreting client responses.

Monitor progress to deliver effective care for PTSD

Noting changes in the presence and severity of PTSD symptoms regularly is key to making sure clients get the right care at the right time. The PLC-5 is a valuable tool to help you do this. You can use it to monitor symptoms over time, track progress, and make improvements to your care as needed. 

So, what does change look like using the PLC-5? Evidence suggests that a 5-10 point change represents reliable change (i.e., change not due to chance) and a 10-20 point change represents clinically significant change. 

Therefore, it’s recommended to use 5 points as a minimum threshold for determining whether someone has responded to treatment, and 10 points as a minimum threshold for determining whether the improvement is clinically meaningful. 

Get support delivering measurement-based care

SonderMind makes it easy to use CQs and other forms of measurement-based care, so you can focus on providing the right care for clients’ individual needs. Here’s how: 

  • The PCL-5 and other CQs can be sent to and filled out by clients right in the SonderMind portal. 
  • Through our research partnership with the University of Denver, SonderMind anonymizes CQ data and uses it to measure overall improvement for all SonderMind clients. 
  • This provides valuable reporting on the quality of care being delivered by SonderMind and supports educational opportunities to help providers improve their care. 

Through the data provided by CQs and clinical research, SonderMind providers get access to timely clinical updates and measurement-based support to help them deliver high-quality care and better outcomes for clients. To learn more about SonderMind’s use of the PCL-5 and our feedback-informed, evidenced-based approach to care, reach out to our team

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