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Learning the differences between PTSD and trauma.

Trauma vs PTSD

What is trauma?

A trauma is an event, or series of events that lead one to feel scared and unsafe. Often, the situation(s) cause real or imagined threat of harm to someone. People who have gone through a traumatic event may feel that the world is unsafe, out of their control, and feel that they must look out for possible danger. PTSD stands for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. This occurs if someone experienced one or more traumatic events and have a specific set of symptoms that impact their daily life. You can experience trauma that may need to be treated without having PTSD.

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Types of Trauma

Trauma can be broken down into several categories: acute, chronic, complex, and vicarious/ secondary. Acute trauma typically occurs in a single event like an assault, car accident, or sudden loss. Chronic trauma is often a series of traumatic events such as bullying or neglect. Complex trauma is a newer term to describe a pervasive pattern of traumatic situations in which one cannot get away. This is typically seen with individuals who experienced long-term abuse or neglect in childhood. Finally, vicarious or secondary trauma is a type of trauma that is often associated with first responders, medical personnel, and law enforcement. This happens when helping professionals are exposed to trauma in the workplace. Not all helping professionals develop secondary trauma, but it is something that certainly occurs.

Effects of Trauma

Much research has been done exploring the effects of trauma on individuals. Notably, research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), has shown long-term health outcomes for individuals who experienced various situations in their childhood. Individuals who experienced several ACES were more likely to have negative health outcomes later in life. Aside from the health impact of ACES, experiencing trauma can lead to several mental health concerns such as poor concentration, being easily startled, fear of the traumatic event happening again, substance use, and so on. Mental health symptoms related to trauma can take a toll on a person’s mind, relationships, work, and their health. In some cases, these symptoms develop into PTSD.

Treatment for Trauma

Often, for individuals to find longer-term relief from trauma related symptoms, they find themselves seeking therapy to treat trauma. There are several forms of treatment for trauma and PTSD. Most forms of therapy for trauma rely on what is called prolonged exposure in which a person is exposed to the traumatic event in increments until they are able to tolerate the memories without symptoms. Individuals struggling with trauma or PTSD might also find themselves seeking medication from a psychiatrist to manage depression and/or anxiety that often accompanies trauma.

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