Any event that involves experiencing or witnessing actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence has the potential to be traumatic.  Traumatic events can include serious accidents, injury, physical or sexual assault, abuse, armed robbery, war, terrorism, and natural disasters. Other less severe but still stressful situations can also trigger traumatic reactions in some people. Traumatic events include things that happen to you directly or to someone you are close to, or it may be an event you saw happen to someone else.Traumatic experiences usually cause emotional distress and can feel overwhelming.  Most people recover in time with the support of family and friends.  However for some people, the effect of trauma may persist and interfere with their life.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

After a traumatic event, some people notice physical, emotional, and behavioural changes which affect their day to day life.  They may experience changes in their thinking or beliefs about the world, other people, and themselves so that they no longer feel safe, in control, or able to see good in other people.

The main symptoms of PTSD are:

  • Re-living the traumatic event through distressing, unwanted memories, nightmares or flashbacks. This can also include intense emotional or physical reactions (e.g., heart palpitations or breathing difficulties) when reminded of the traumatic event.
  • Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event, such as places, people, activities, conversations, thoughts or feelings that bring back memories of the trauma.
  • Negative thoughts and feelings including fear, anger, guilt, feeling flat or numb. A person might blame themselves or others for the cause or consequences of the traumatic event. They may feel detached from friends and family, lose interest in day-to-day activities, or feel unable to experience positive emotions.
  • Feeling wound-up including having difficulty sleeping or concentrating, being easily startled, or constantly on the lookout for danger. This can also include feeling angry or irritable, and engaging in risk-taking or reckless behaviour.

Often people with PTSD experience other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, or they may turn to substances such as drugs or alcohol as a way of coping.

Psychological treatment for PTSD is effective and aims to decrease or eliminate emotional distress associated with the trauma, relieve physical symptoms, modify maladaptive beliefs about self or others, and improve overall functioning.

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma relates to the effects of severe, prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly due to child abuse, exploitation, or domestic violence. In addition to formal PTSD symptoms, people who with complex trauma often experience changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events. The impact of chronic unresolved trauma can lead to a wide range of effects on personality, behaviour, emotional regulation, memory, consciousness, perceptions of self and others, and relations with others.

Treatment for complex trauma is typically longer than for a single trauma PTSD.