• adults;
  • intellectual disability;
  • IPA;
  • life events;
  • PTSD;
  • trauma

Background  Previous research investigating post-traumatic stress disorder assumed that adults with intellectual disabilities would react to trauma in the same way as those in the non-disabled population. This study explored the personal experience of trauma in a small group of adults with intellectual disabilities.

Methods  Semi-structured interviews, developed from a pilot study involving focus groups, were used to interview six adults with mild intellectual disabilities from a clinical population, about their experiences of trauma. The transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). A quantitative measure, the Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale [PDS; Foa et al. (1997) Psychological Assessment vol. 9, pp. 445–451] was used in conjunction with the individual interviews.

Results  One theme, whether individuals perceived the world to be a dangerous or a safe place, connected the five themes that emerged from the data. The themes were identified as: (i) how the trauma affected me, (ii) I avoid things that remind me of the trauma, (iii) I am prepared for danger in the future, (iv) the tension of talking or not talking and (v) the struggle of who to blame.

Conclusions  The results were related to previous theoretical frameworks and the methodological limitations of the research acknowledged. The clinical implications of the findings for disclosure, assessment and therapeutic intervention were discussed.