Trauma Defined

Updated: Jul 9

There are three main types of trauma: acute, chronic, and complex.

Acute trauma usually occurs from a single event that caused significant distress. A couple of examples might be: witnessing a violent act, car accident, assault/abuse, sudden death of a loved one, loss of safety, divorce, etc. If left untreated, acute trauma can evolve into post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


Chronic trauma occurs when a person is exposed to a highly stressful event for a prolonged amount of time. This could include child abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, poverty, ongoing bullying, neglect, abandonment, etc.


Chronic trauma is when multiple traumatizing events have occurred. A lifetime of distress. It might be hard to think of a happy time in your childhood. For example, neglect, ongoing verbal, physical, and/or sexual abuse, poverty, living in an unsafe neighbourhood, being bullied, never feeling safe. All or some of these things occurring at once or continuously over an extended period of time.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is when the trauma (PTSD) or series of traumas (C-PTSD) are not addressed soon enough and the trauma takes over the person’s everyday life. They relive, consciously or unconsciously, the event(s) or fall out from the events, over and over again, causing unexplained stress, depression, and/or anxiety. Often Times seemingly unrelated events can cause the trauma to resurface.

Realizing that what you are experiencing is trauma related may be hard but it can also bring some relief. You are now able to put a label on it. You are not crazy. You are not angry. You are not weird, negative, or any other unhelpful term you have put on yourself. You are human.

For some people, therapy is like finally being able to take a deep breath. They feel free and hopeful and can't wait to dig in. To others, therapy can feel like that dream about being exposed in front of your peers and everyone is laughing. Sometimes the thought of therapy is neutral and you just didn’t think of it as an option. It is safe to say that talking to a therapist has become much more mainstream over the past few years. Mental health is being recognized as one of the most important areas contributing to an overall sense of well being.

Two separate circles. Small one says "Your comfort zone" Large one says, "Where the magic happens"

Finding a counsellor that works for you is important. Read their bios, call and ask the receptionist for advice, book a consultation or meet-and-greet, and see how you feel afterwards. You will want to find someone with whom you feel safe and comfortable and whose expertise or experience feels like a good fit. Then, give it a go. Invest in yourself. It will be uncomfortable - it has to be. Stay the course.


Change occurs outside of your comfort zone.


More about finding treatment for trauma here, here, and here.

Author: Jen Millar

Jen has been invited to contribute to the WACS blog for June - PTSD Awareness Month. She is a student in a counselling psychology program, a volunteer with William & Associates, and an aspiring writer.


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