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  • Writer's pictureDrew Kellough

The Three Types of Trauma

The Three Types of Trauma
The Three Types of Trauma

There are three types of Trauma?

Although there are more than just three types of trauma, we typically categorize trauma into one of three types:

Acute Trauma

Chronic Trauma

Complex Trauma

Acute Trauma

Acute Trauma is generally what most people think of when they think of the word "trauma". Acute Trauma is an isolated event or incident that occurs that psychology affects a person even after the event has ended. Typically, we look at the longevity and intensity of the psychological effect after the event.

Some examples of Acute Trauma are:

  • Life-threatening situation

  • Car/motor-vehicle accident

  • Natural disaster

  • Sexual assault/rape

  • Loss of a loved one (typically unexpected)

  • Major injury

Chronic Trauma

Chronic Trauma is the presence of multiple reoccurring acute traumatic events over an extended amount of time. The effects of Chronic Trauma have been studied for years. A tool like the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) assessment can help identify presence of Chronic Trauma.

Some examples of Chronic Trauma are:

  • Child abuse/neglect

  • Child sexual assault/molestation

  • Abusive relationships

  • Homelessness

  • Toxic friendships

  • Chronic illness

  • Military combat

Complex Trauma

Complex Trauma, unlike Acute and Chronic Trauma, is defined by the experiences of trauma and the person's responses to that trauma. Complex Trauma typically will overlap or cooccur with other psychological issues or disorders. Complex Trauma has been studied closely over the past several years in order to better understand the relationship between trauma and other mental health disorders.

An example of complex trauma would be a person who experienced being hit with an IED in combat, and who later developed anxieties that make it difficult for the person to feel safe in certain every-day situations. They experience hyper-vigilance, nightmares, and sensitivity to certain sounds and smells. This response after the acute experience of trauma has occurred would be an example of Complex Trauma.

Our understanding of Trauma is growing

We know much more about Trauma and its effects now than we did 20 or even 10 years ago. This progression helps us better identify, define, and treat Trauma. People often believe Trauma will go away on its own, or rather, the effects of Trauma will go away on their own. This is typically not the case. The re-experiencing of symptoms and triggering of traumatic responses show up throughout our lives, if left untreated. There are now multiple treatment modalities that can help us work through and recover from Trauma. Seeking out professional mental health treatment gives people the greatest chances of healing from the Traumas they have experienced.


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