What is Trauma? Types, Symptoms and Treatments

Publication Date: January 8, 2023

Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience, where the event itself is so overwhelming that our nervous system becomes stuck in its threat response. Few people can go through life without encountering some trauma. Unlike ordinary hardships, traumatic events tend to be sudden and unpredictable, involve a severe threat to life—like bodily injury or death—and feel beyond a person’s control. Most important, events are traumatic to the degree that they undermine a person’s sense of safety in the world and create a feeling that catastrophe could strike at any time. Parental loss in childhood, physical illness, violence, sexual assault, natural disasters, or sudden grief are commonly traumatic events. 

What are the different types of trauma?

Acute Trauma: Usually follows in the aftermath of a one-time event. It involves an intense reaction and distress for a short duration. Common examples include the sudden death of a loved one, assault, or a car accident. 

Chronic Trauma: occurs from repeated or prolonged harmful events. For example, it may develop due to persistent abuse, neglect, or domestic violence.

Complex Trauma: can arise from experiencing repeated or multiple traumatic events from which there is no possibility of escape. The sense of being trapped is a feature of the experience. Like other types of trauma, it can undermine a sense of safety in our world and beget hypervigilance, constant monitoring of the environment for the possibility of threat. 

Secondary Trauma: This can occur from witnessing others’ trauma or suffering. It is more prevalent in professions called on to respond to injuries and catastrophic events, such as physicians, first responders, and law enforcement. Over time, such individuals are at risk for compassion fatigue, whereby they avoid investing emotionally in other people in an attempt to protect themselves from experiencing distress.

Symptoms Of Trauma

Emotional and psychological responses – a person who has experienced Trauma may feel:

  • Denial 
  • anger
  • fear
  • shame
  • confusion
  • severe anxiety
  • dissociation
  • numbness
  • hypervigilance
  • sadness
  • difficulty concentrating

Along with an emotional reaction, trauma can cause physical responses such as:

  • headaches
  • digestive problems
  • fatigue
  • racing heart
  • insomnia
  • sweating
  • feeling jumpy

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but they usually get better with time and good self-care. However, if the symptoms worsen, persist for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.

Treatment for Trauma

Left unaddressed or untreated, trauma can undermine relationships and wreak havoc on personal and professional lives. There are multiple avenues of treatment available for people experiencing short- or long-term trauma symptoms.

Lifestyle changes are an early treatment option to consider. Eating healthy, exercising, avoiding alcohol and drugs, getting enough sleep, seeing loved ones regularly, and emphasizing self-care can help relieve trauma symptoms.

Psychotherapy can help a person build resilience, develop coping skills, and address unresolved feelings that keep them stuck. Exposure therapy and cognitive reappraisal therapy are two more reliable treatments for Trauma and PTSD.

Trauma-informed care treats the whole person who recognizes past Trauma and the maladaptive coping mechanisms that the individual may have adopted to survive their distressing experience.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy is frequently used to address the destructive effects of early trauma, proving particularly helpful to youth with PTSD and mood disorders resulting from abuse, violence, or unresolved grief.

So, when is it time to consult a professional? First, consider subscribing to Talk time to connect with a licensed and experienced therapist if you feel that you may be struggling with PTSD. If you think you have other mental health concerns related to your PTSD  (such as anxiety – see our article on anxiety for more information) or think your condition is interfering with your physical health, then a consultation would be in your best interest. Most importantly, if you encounter suicidal thoughts or behaviors, seek emergency treatment immediately. At Talk Time, clinicians can assess and formulate the ideal treatment for your individual needs. This could be through psychotherapy, lifestyle, and stress management tips. 


  1. 1. Trauma | Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/trauma
  1. 2. About Trauma. https://www.carsonparkerconsulting.com/post/about-trauma

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