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Separation Anxiety Disorder and the Social Work Exam

separation anxiety (38465245_s)Let's continue our journey through the DSM-5 anxiety disorders chapter by taking a look at separation anxiety.

What's separation anxiety disorder? The DSM definition is simple:

Developmentally inappropriate and excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation concerning separation from those to whom the individual is attached.

Three of eight symptoms are needed to diagnose the disorder. The eight:

1. Anticipatory distress

2. Fear of losing attachment figures (e.g., due to illness or injury)

3. Fear of event that may cause separation (e.g., getting lost or being kidnapped)

4. Persistent reluctance or refusal to go out d/t fear of separation

5. Fear of being alone without attachment figure

6. Persistent reluctance or refusal to sleep away from attachment figures

7. Repeated separation-themed nightmares

8. Repeated complaints of physical symptoms when a separation occurs or is anticipated (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, nausea)

Symptoms need to be present for at least four weeks in children or six months in adults for a diagnosis to be made.

Adults, you ask? Yes, adults. Once upon a time (that is, in DSM-IV-TR), separation anxiety was a disorder that had to have its onset during childhood. No longer. DSM-5 recognizes separation anxiety as a condition that begin at any age. That distinction suggests a simple question:

A 34-year-old man tells a social worker that in the last few years he has been afraid to be be apart from his wife. He fears she might be injured or killed and he would never see her again. His nightmares often include that exact scenario. What is the MOST likely diagnosis for this client?

A) Reactive attachment disorder

B) Dependent personality disorder

C) Separation anxiety disorder

D) Specific phobia

Yes, the man meets criteria for separation anxiety disorder. If you see something like this on the ASWB exam you'll now be more than ready to answer it. Try not to yell at the screen. "Come on! Ask me something hard!" Try to remain calm and move on to the next question.

Here's hoping that the majority of questions you encounter on the social work licensing exam are comfortably familiar and answerable. The more practice questions you do, the better chance you have of that happening. (Get started with SWTP practice tests by signing up!)

For more about separation anxiety disorder, try:

Good luck on the exam!

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