What is trauma?

Trauma involves the experience of a very frightening or distressing incident. It may result in a psychological injury or impact upon an individual’s functioning (Australian Psychological Society, 2020).

A traumatic event normally has a significant and disturbing impact upon an individual’s daily life. Often, traumatic events involve experiences that are life threatening or have an impact upon physical or mental health (Australian Psychological Society, 2020).

Everyone reacts differently to trauma. However, most people recover with the right support.

Examples of scenarios that may lead to psychological trauma include:

-Acts of violence (e.g. terrorism)

-Natural disasters (e.g. flood, bush fire)

-Interpersonal violence (e.g. domestic violence, rape)

-Involvement in a car accident or workplace accident

-Stressful situations may also prompt traumatic reactions in some people.

One study found that exposure to chronic trauma in childhood can negatively impact upon functioning (Larson, Chapman, Spetz and Brindis, 2017).


Many people have emotional and physical reactions to trauma and recover from these symptoms quickly.

Trauma may include the following symptoms:

Cognitive- including difficulty with memory, attention and concentration, nightmares and intrusive thoughts.

Physical- including shaking, sweating, feeling sick, heart racing, disturbed sleep and pain.

Behavioural- including avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, social withdrawal and loss of interest in normal activities.

Emotional- including feeling shut-off, angry, guilty, anxious and panicky.

These symptoms are normal if they resolve in a short period of time. If they continue for longer periods of time, an individual may go on to develop depression, Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders or drug and alcohol issues (Australian Psychological Society, 2020).

In some people, these symptoms may last longer due to the type of traumatic event; their support systems, personality, stress and coping ability (Australian Psychological Society, 2020).

Exposure to trauma is common around the world. Whilst many individuals with PTSD recover, symptoms occur for longer than previously understood (Ronald et al., 2017).

One recent study found that the collective exposure to violence may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing mental health issues such as PTSD and depression and these individuals may require more support (El-Khodary and Samara, 2020).

Individuals have different trauma memory structures. Early recollections of traumatic memories may help to target individuals in need of effective treatments (Booker et al., 2020).

Get Help

Seek assistance if your symptoms last for more than two weeks or are too upsetting (Australian Psychological Society, 2020).

A psychologist can help can evaluate your trauma symptoms and help you to better understand and respond to it. Coping strategies, techniques and therapy can help manage symptoms.

You can book an appointment online with psychologist Jen here.


Australian Psychological Society, 2020. What is Trauma? Retrieved from

Booker, J. A., Fivush, R., Graci, M. E., Heitz, H., Hudak, L. A., Jovanovic, T., ... & Stevens, J. (2020). Longitudinal changes in trauma narratives over the first year and associations with coping and mental health. Journal of Affective Disorders.

El-Khodary, B., & Samara, M. (2020). The relationship between multiple exposures to violence and war trauma, and mental health and behavioural problems among Palestinian children and adolescents. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 29(5), 719-731.

Kessler, R. C., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Benjet, C., Bromet, E. J., Cardoso, G., ... & Florescu, S. (2017). Trauma and PTSD in the WHO world mental health surveys. European journal of psychotraumatology, 8(sup5), 1353383.

Larson, S., Chapman, S., Spetz, J., & Brindis, C. D. (2017). Chronic childhood trauma, mental health, academic achievement, and school‐based health center mental health services. Journal of school health, 87(9), 675-686.