Types of Trauma

“I have come to the conclusion that human beings are born with an innate capacity to triumph over trauma. I believe not only that trauma is curable, but that the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening—a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation.” ― Peter A. Levine, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body

Many people are unaware there are three types of trauma. Let’s go over these types of trauma a little more in-depth. Each type of trauma is defined by the following criteria:

  • Acute trauma results from a single traumatic incident.
  • Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged exposure to trauma, such as domestic violence or abuse.
  • Complex trauma is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events which are often of invasive and interpersonal nature.

Acute trauma normally occurs as the result of a single traumatic incident. Examples of this type of trauma are:

  • Severe illness or injury.
  • Violent assault.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Traumatic loss.
  • Being a victim of or witness to violence.
  • Witnessing a terrorist attack or witnessing a natural disaster.

Chronic trauma is a repeated traumatic event which occurs over a long period of time. Chronic trauma survivors present with a much more intense and more distressed presentation. This may include dissociation, self-mutilation, addiction, paranoia as well as somatic symptoms. Examples of this type of trauma:

  • Physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse.
  • Domestic violence
  • Parental neglect

Complex trauma occurs when an individual is exposed to varied and multiple traumatic events.  These events are usually invasive and interpersonal in nature:

  • sexual abuse or incest.
  • ongoing physical or emotional abuse for extended periods of time
  • chronic neglect or abandonment.
  • medical abuse or medical trauma.
  • torture or being held captive.
  • enmeshment or engulfment trauma.
  • parentification (children taking on adult roles)
  • human trafficking

Treatment often requires a full assessment of an individual’s history.  While we recognize this is uncomfortable for many of our clients, it is necessary to determine which type of trauma you have to be able to provide the most effective treatment.