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PTSD vs. Trauma

So many terms! No matter the terminology that is used to describe your current struggles, trauma in any way or form is impactful in itself. This doesn't mean that it has to be a life sentence, though. No matter the way you've experienced trauma or how it affects you today, it does not have to be a life sentence. Luckily, treatment for each different trauma is similar and processing is the same as well.

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) - A mental health diagnosis in which a person develops characteristic symptoms after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. A person needs to meet exact criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD following the DSM-5. These symptoms need to last 1 month and be clinically significant to meet criteria for a diagnosis.

  • After exposure, symptoms include intrusive symptoms, persistent avoidance of stimuli related to the traumatic experience, negative thoughts about the self and the world, and increased arousal/hypervigilance.

  • Treatment includes psychotherapy, body-based interventions, and medication management.

Trauma - a deeply disturbing event that was witnessed or experienced.

  • PTSD includes the symptoms you may experience from a traumatic event, a trauma is that event that was witnessed or experienced.

  • Trauma is broken down into subsets: acute trauma, chronic trauma, complex trauma.

    • Acute trauma results from a single incident that is unexpected and come out of the blue.

    • Chronic trauma is a repeated and prolonged event.

    • Complex trauma is exposure to multiple, varied, invasive, interpersonal events.

Acute Trauma can include:

  • "Severe illness or injury

  • Violent assault

  • Sexual assault

  • Traumatic loss

  • Mugging or robbery

  • Being a victim of or witness to violence

  • Witnessing a terrorist attack

  • Witnessing a natural disaster

  • Road accident

  • A breakup

  • Military combat incident

  • Hospitalization

  • Psychiatric hospitalisation

  • Childbirth

  • Medical trauma

  • Post suicide attempt trauma

  • Life-threatening illness or diagnosis

Complex trauma includes:

  • Sibling abuse

  • Childhood emotional abuse

  • Domestic violence

  • Emotional neglect and attachment trauma

  • Abandonment

  • Verbal abuse

  • Coercion

  • Domestic physical abuse

  • Long term misdiagnosis of a health problem

  • Bullying at home at school or in a work setting

  • Sexual abuse

  • Incarceration

  • Emotional abuse

  • Physical neglect

  • Overly strict upbringing sometimes religious"

(The Trauma Practice)

The above list also does not include all types of trauma and is not exhaustive. Not mentioned, still significant types of trauma include intergenerational trauma (like racism, slavery, war, genocide), vicarious trauma, or lesser-known types of trauma (moving, divorce, attachment injuries, losing a job).

Any event or events that have affected you in a significant way can be traumatic.

  • Missouri Early Care & Education Connections. Trauma-Informed Care. Retrieved from

  • The Trauma Practice. Types of trauma. Retrieved from

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