Defining Types of Trauma and Appropriate Treatment


Trauma affects people in different ways. A distressing situation may be traumatizing for one individual but not for another. The symptoms of trauma can vary, depending on the type of traumatic experience and how the person processes what happened. Mental health professionals need to understand the individual experience and the types of trauma that can occur. Three types of trauma are commonly recognized: acute trauma, chronic trauma, and complex trauma. Some professionals also recognize vicarious trauma, although this type of trauma is typically less severe than other types. Understanding these different types of trauma and how they impact people can make a difference in trauma-informed care and individualized treatment for trauma survivors. 

Defining The 4 Types of Trauma

Trauma exists in different forms depending on what experiences a person has had, the frequency of traumatic events, and how they processed what happened to them. For some, a stressful experience may not result in trauma, while it can profoundly impact others. 


  • Acute Trauma


Acute trauma is defined as a singular significant event that a person goes through. This can include an accident, a natural disaster, a victim of a crime, medical trauma, combat, and others. This event can leave a lasting impact on a person’s life. Left untreated, it can cause physical and mental symptoms as the brain holds onto the traumatic memory. 


  • Chronic Trauma


Chronic trauma is when a person is exposed to distressing events for an extended period of time. This includes domestic violence, child abuse, bullying, being kidnapped, and more. This can cause the same symptoms as acute trauma but is often downplayed by the victim because they were exposed for a long time. 


  • Complex Trauma


Complex trauma is caused by multiple traumatic events occurring in a person’s life. It differs from chronic trauma in that it is not the same trauma over a long period, but rather different incidents occurring at various points in a person’s life. As its name implies, this type of trauma can be more difficult to treat, as a therapist will need to target several different moments of trauma. 


  • Vicarious Trauma


Also known as secondary trauma, vicarious trauma often occurs in professionals working with trauma patients. Such occupations include counselors, domestic violence shelter workers, trauma hotline operators, child abuse investigators, etc. This type of trauma happens over time while working in an occupation that exposes one to trauma and the effects of their work become apparent both in and outside of work. Symptoms of vicarious trauma can look like losing trust in healthy relationships or a fear of having people around their children. 

Symptoms of Trauma

Whether a person has gone through acute, chronic, complex, or even vicarious trauma, the physical and psychological symptoms are often similar. A wide range of symptoms are felt by those that have experienced trauma, and the impact it has on their lives is significant. It should be noted, however, that the impact of trauma on a person can be influenced by several factors, including:

  • Previous exposure to a traumatic event
  • The nature of the traumatic event
  • The person’s personality
  • A person’s ability to regulate emotions
  • If mental illness is present

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms often accompany the psychological effects of trauma. These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling on-edge
  • Sweating
  • Problems with digestion

Psychological Symptoms

Trauma often triggers more psychological symptoms, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Irritability
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling numb
  • Problems concentrating
  • Confusion 

PTSD Treatment

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the condition that occurs after a traumatic event and can be the cause of many of the symptoms of trauma. PTSD can be diagnosed based on the reoccurring and distressing memories of the traumatic event coupled with the physical and psychological symptoms. Treating PTSD involves either short or long-term psychotherapy and potentially may require prescribing medications. 

Common psychotherapies used include cognitive processing therapy (CPT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), stress inoculation therapy (a form of CBT), and prolonged exposure therapy (PE). These therapeutic modalities help you discuss and process the traumatic event, recognize its impact on your life, and discover new coping strategies. 

Medications can be used to help regain the balance of the neurotransmitters in the brain. PTSD can cause you to feel on edge frequently, so medications can help you return to a sense of equilibrium. Medications also help you sleep better and to have a more positive outlook on life when used in combination with psychotherapy. Common medications used for PTSD  include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

Depending on the severity of the trauma, treatment and therapy can either be short or long-term. The goal of treatment and therapy for trauma includes teaching you coping skills for managing and decreasing PTSD symptoms and hopefully restoring your self-esteem. Through the use of various psychotherapeutic modalities and potentially in combination with medication, you can be set up for your greatest chance at trauma recovery. 


At Choice House, we understand the complexity of trauma. The various types of trauma require treatment to be individualized for each client. We are a trauma-informed treatment program and approach each client uniquely to provide the care and attention they need to be successful in the trauma healing process. We utilize various forms of psychotherapeutic modalities to help our clients address the traumatic events of their past. Our goal is to provide a healing environment for each of our clients and utilize modern clinical approaches for the treatment of addiction and trauma. We provide the tools for our clients to be able to cope with trauma symptoms so that they can succeed in their recovery after discharge from our facility. This sets them up for a future of healing and recovery from trauma for years to come. If you or someone you know is struggling with trauma or symptoms of PTSD, don’t hesitate to reach out. We are here to help you heal. Call (720) 577-4422 today to begin your journey to healing.

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