This is a post about trauma – emotional trauma caused by an event or situation, rather than in the context of physical injury (as in the trauma unit of a hospital).

Emotional trauma is described by the Australian National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma, Blue Knot, as being:

…a state of high arousal. It is an event or events in which a person is threatened or feels threatened. The experience of trauma overwhelms the person’s capacity to cope. Trauma also describes the impacts of the event or events.

Similarities between definitions of trauma and PTSD are:

  • The list of potential symptoms (you’ll find in my PTSD post) is very similar for both conditions.
  • Both trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder are caused by traumatic events in which we feel at risk.
  • Responses to trauma vary by culture, age, gender, support received, and previous exposure to trauma.

Differences between definitions of trauma and PTSD are:

  • PTSD is a clinical diagnosis, laid out in the ICD-11 and used by medical professionals to ascertain whether the individual is suffering from this stress disorder.
  • Trauma includes both the emotions during the actual event and any subsequent psychological impact after the event. It is not a clinical diagnosis. Anyone who has been through a traumatic event is likely to experience some degree of trauma – from mild to severe. Blue Knot describes trauma as occurring when each of us is outside ‘our window of tolerance‘ i.e. the level of arousal in which we can function comfortably.
  • Two out of three people who experience trauma fully recover without going on to experience PTSD, according to the NHS, though the words ‘trauma’ and ‘PTSD’ are so often used interchangeably.
  • People who experience trauma are likely to feel an emotional response to it for hours, weeks or a few months. The symptoms should gradually improve and some people find that a short course of medication (sleeping tablets, for instance) is helpful. If they worsen, this could be a sign of PTSD and going to the GP if symptoms are not improving after a few weeks is recommended.
  • As a consequence of being diagnosed with PTSD, we are likely (hopefully) to be offered some form of trauma-focussed therapy and/or medication (for depression, anxiety etc) to help us heal. Sadly, this is not consistently true within the NHS.

Trauma is a very broad term and the type of support and advice needed varies hugely. So here are a few starting points:

External websites:

Links to relevant glossary posts: