What is Trauma?

What is Trauma

In general, trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. When loosely applied, this trauma definition can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. However, it can also encompass the far extreme and include experiences that are severely damaging, such as rape or torture.

Because events are viewed subjectively, this broad trauma definition is more of a guideline. Everyone processes a traumatic event differently because we all face them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. For example: one person might be upset and fearful after going through a hurricane, but someone else might have lost family and barely escaped from a flooded home during Hurricane Katrina. In this case, a minor Category One hurricane may bring up traumatic flashbacks of their terrifying experience.

Because trauma reactions fall across a wide spectrum, psychologists have developed categories as a way to differentiate between types of trauma. Among them are complex trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and developmental trauma disorder.

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma happens repetitively. It often results in direct harm to the individual. The effects of complex trauma are cumulative. The traumatic experience frequently transpires within a particular time frame or within a specific relationship, and often in a specific setting.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop after a person has been exposed to a terrifying event or has been through an ordeal in which intense physical harm occurred or was threatened. Sufferers of this PTSD have persistent and frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal.

Developmental Trauma Disorder

Developmental trauma disorder is a recent term in the study of psychology. This disorder forms during a child’s first three years of life. The result of abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment, developmental trauma interferes with the infant or child’s neurological, cognitive, and psychological development. It disrupts the victim’s ability to attach to an adult caregiver.

An adult who inflicts developmental trauma usually doesn’t do it intentionally – rather, it happens because they are not aware of the social and emotional needs of children.

Trauma Symptoms

Often, shock and denial are typical reactions to a traumatic event. Over time, these emotional responses may fade, but a survivor may also experience reactions long-term. These can include:

  • Anger
  • Persistent feelings of sadness and despair
  • Flashbacks
  • Unpredictable emotions
  • Physical symptoms, such as nausea and headaches
  • Intense feelings of guilt, as if they are somehow responsible for the event
  • An altered sense of shame
  • Feelings of isolation and hopelessness

Trauma Therapy

Trauma therapy is not one-size-fits-all. It must be adapted to address different symptoms. Mental health professionals who are specially trained in treating trauma can assess the survivor’s unique needs and plan treatment specifically for them.

Currently, there are several trauma therapy modalities in place:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches the person become more aware of their thoughts and beliefs about their trauma and gives them skills to help them react to emotional triggers in a healthier way.
  • Exposure therapy (also called In Vivo Exposure Therapy) is a form of cognitive behavior therapy that is used to reduce the fear associated with the emotional triggers caused by the trauma.
  • Talk therapy (psychodynamic psychotherapy) is a method of verbal communication that is used to help a person find relief from emotional pain and strengthen the adaptive ways of problem management that the individual already possesses.

These modalities treat the memory portion (the unconscious) of the trauma, however we now know that a survivor’s conscious brain must be treated, as well. Recent studies have found that body-oriented approaches such as mindfulness, yoga, and EMDR are powerful tools for helping the mind and body reconnect.

Additionally, neurofeedback (a type of biofeedback that focuses on brain waves) shows promise in helping patients with trauma symptoms learn to change their brain wave activity to help them become calmer and better able to engage with others.

Healing from Trauma

It is possible to heal from emotional and psychological trauma. We know that the brain changes in response to a traumatic experience, however, by working with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma, you can leave your trauma behind and learn to feel safe again.

Compassionate Trauma Therapy

The clinicians at The Center for Anxiety and Mood Disorder’s Trauma Institute provide compassionate care through specialized training in trauma therapy. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

About Dr. Andrew Rosen

Dr. Andrew Rosen PHD, ABPP, FAACP is a Board-Certified Psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as, the Founder of The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services.

  1. James Johnson

    Thank you for this informative article

  2. Peter Holt

    Trauma through a family friend telling me it is a secret dont tell anyone and then proceeded to molest me for 16 years. He gave gifts to me AND always telling me it is our secret. This in turn caused my PTSD with constant flashbacks and feeling it was my fault .

  3. Pingback: Is Trauma the Same as PTSD? | 420 For Trauma

  4. Carmel Clark

    Why is EMDR Trauma Therapy NOT mentioned considering it is one of the most quantified therapies in existence today for trauma and ptsd?

    • George

      I think EMDR can be used.

  5. Pingback: Trauma is Not Just "Being Offended" - Rona Fischman

  6. Sam Li

    I love what you shared about compassionate trauma therapy. Therapy is a great option when it comes to coping with emotional trauma. If I were to need such assistance, I would contact a reliable counseling service.

    • Dusk

      I don’t know if I have trauma but one of my friends said that I might and the only thing I can think of even being close to traumatic was back in 6th grade.

      I had asked my friends to let this one girl in the group and then she had ruined everything, every little balance and quite a bit of my sanity she even made my best friend go in to depression and later on me. But for some reason I stuck with her till 9th grade, and I did nothing, I had so many chances, but I did nothing. That girl had torn the whole group a part, and I stuck with her. The only thing that made me get away from her was that she had gone way to far and insulted my best friend. I managed to finally get away from her but I’m not able to forgive myself for letting her in in the first place, especially cause I had a bad feeling about her for the beginning but I still let her in and did nothing as she f****d up everything. I let her do what she wanted because I wanted to trust her but I knew I couldn’t yet I still stuck with her

      TL;DR: I let a girl in to the group of friends I had and she messed everything up and I still blame myself

      Now, I probably already know the answer to this question but, would this qualify ask trauma?
      I’m gonna guess not

      • Muro

        Hi! I don’t know if this will help you at all but..
        I was in a situation somewhat similar to yours. In general I was betrayed by someone I considered a friend (at a similar age), and they split apart our friend group and turned other’s against us (so we faced a lot of bullying). I went to therapy for a while because of how much it effected me, and was told it was trauma. If you’re seriously being effected by what happened back then, I suggest you seek help! I’m no medical professional (nowhere close haha) so take me with a grain of salt, but hopefully it helped a bit 🙂

  7. Xolile Thabede

    l think i have Developmental trauma disorder cz every time when i’m in the car I feel the movement of the car…expetial if the car moving in the gravel road, so I feel dat movement up until I become sick…I start to have nausea, vomiting, dizziness and shaking

    When I was 3 months years old, I started to sick up until now I’m 23 years old BT there is no help I get, I think I have fits BT I don’t understand coz I don’t fall down…it changes the way it starts every time and dat fits destroyed my life cz I don’t know how do I treat it, I’ve went to several doctors BT can’t find help….Thank you

  8. Pingback: What Drives Human Behavior? | Steve Rose PhD

  9. Dickson R Costantine

    How anaesthesia help to treat traumatized patients?

  10. Pingback: A Journalists Emotions | Poppy's System

  11. Pingback: The Problem With Trauma: An Ethical Explainer – Ashleigh Grentell

  12. Pingback: Deal With Trauma for Journalists – A Very Beazy Blog

  13. Alex Alison


    • Stephanie

      Google “therapy for low income”. You’ll find health centers that have mental health professionals providing their service for the low/no income. If you qualify, the service may be free or at a very low rate. If you find a therapist that you like, you can ask if they have a sliding scale payment. If you qualify, then you would pay at a reduced rate, sometimes 50% less, then their normal fees. Another option is to see if a local university has a therapy program open to the public where graduate students studying to become therapists work with you. This is for free but downfall is that it operates according to the academic calendar

  14. Pingback: 5 Ways to Help a Traumatised Loved One - SOS Safety Magazine

  15. Ellie Davis

    It’s interesting to know that post-traumatic stress can develop after a person is exposed to a terrifying experience. My husband and I will be taking care of my sister in our house due to a traffic accident, and we are looking for advice. I will let my husband know about the importance of finding a counselor to help her after that horrible experience.

  16. Pingback: The Ripple Effects of Trauma Make Gun Violence Far More Pernicious to Society Than Alcohol Abuse – Trauma Informed Parent

  17. Dylan Peterson

    It’s good to know that trauma can result in flashbacks. My brother has been telling me about how his mind keeps going back to some unpleasant experiences from a few years ago, and he wants to get over that. I’ll share this information with him so that he can look into his options for trauma therapy that can help him with this.

  18. Tyson Coolidge

    It’s good to know that trauma therapy isn’t on-size-fits-all. My brother had a traumatic experience a few years ago, and he wants to get help dealing with it. I’ll share this information with him so that he can look into his options for counselors who can help him with this.

  19. Hassan vilecroide

    I must be having trauma coz am very shy to the extent that I can not even give any view in work meetings and I had tried all but nothing changes and this started in my late teens!! What else should I try plz.

  20. Ron Booker

    It’s awesome that getting treatment for mental health helps to improve quality of life and even a relationship. It makes sense that when your strength isn’t being sapped by the symptoms of the illness, you’re better able to develop and maintain healthy relationships. One of my cousins should know about this so he can get treatment and overcome his mental health.

  21. Pingback: Childbirth is Not Black and White – Inner Life of Mom

  22. Pingback: The scars that you can’t see. – Varsha Panikar

  23. Pingback: Episode 1: What is Trauma? - Beyond Trauma Podcast

  24. Pingback: Empowering your Emotional Intelligence | Devcodee

  25. Zachary Tomlinson

    Thanks for pointing out that trauma is usually caused by having an illness or being in an accident. My friend was hit by a car last week, and each time she sees a vehicle nowadays, she just runs away from it even though it’s not moving. I’ll be sure to let her know that what she’s experiencing is a trauma disorder, and there is a variety of therapy or counseling available to help her recover.

  26. Rachel Frampton

    My dad got into a fatal accident, and this caused trauma to him, which is why I’m currently looking for a retreat house where he may relax for a few weeks. Although you’re right that he may also engage in Yoga or other meditation. It’s also interesting to learn that exposure therapy could help reduce a person’s fear

  27. Pingback: Coping with Collective Trauma Caused by the Pandemic | Grotto Network

  28. Shaylee Packer

    You mentioned that we all come with trauma in different ways, and the definition may be different for different people. My sister was involved in a car accident a few years ago. The accident happened at night, and she still struggles with night driving. I wonder if it may be a good time to go speak with a professional to see how she can work through this trauma.

  29. Pingback: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding Trauma and the Workplace – LEAD, Inc. Official Blog

  30. Pingback: Chained to Hell: A Trauma Centric Analysis of Kurapika (The Deep Dive) – Elka Scott

  31. Pingback: How I Realized I Might Have Trauma | Dementia News Network

  32. Pingback: The Complexities of "Trauma" and How to Manage Triggers — Therapy For Black Girls

  33. Pingback: TRAUMA ISN'T ONLY ABOUT VETERANS | Fourth Estate

  34. Pingback: What Counts As Trauma? | Urban Wellness – physicalwellbeing

  35. Pingback: Extreme Fear: The Experience & Frequency of Childhood Trauma • The Calm, Cool & Collected

  36. Pingback: How to Reclaim Life After Experiencing Trauma - Sis on High

Comments are closed.

Call Us (561) 496-1094