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What Does Trauma Mean? Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Trauma is the response to a very unpleasant or unsettling event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope, ignites feelings of helplessness, and diminishes their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences.

Trauma, as defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is an event you experience as harmful or life-threatening. It has long-lasting negative impacts on your mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health.

Trauma Disorder and Types

After experiencing a traumatic incident, people may have difficulty recovering to a regular frame of mind. In certain cases, people develop a mental illness due to a traumatic event. This is referred to as a trauma disorder. There are seven different types:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

After a traumatic event, such as witnessing a murder or being assaulted, PTSD can develop. It results in flashbacks, nightmares, terror, and the avoidance of anything associated with the trauma. PTSD may significantly impact a person’s quality of life.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Children who fail to build a healthy attachment to a parent or caregiver are more likely to develop RAD. This occurs when the needs of the kid are not met. A kid or infant with RAD may be withdrawn, depressed, fearful, listless, and uninterested in others.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)

Like RAD, this is an attachment disorder affecting neglected or traumatized children. Although the symptoms are less severe than those of RAD, DSED makes it challenging for a youngster to build connections or engage in appropriate activities.

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

ASD is comparable to PTSD and is similarly precipitated by trauma. In ASD, the response to stress is sudden and considerably shorter than in PTSD. It might endure between a few days and a month, whereas PTSD symptoms linger more than a month.

Adjustment Disorders (AD)

Adjustment disorders (AD) are characterized by excessive reactions to stressful or traumatic events, such as a death in the family or the end of a relationship. Stress in response to such traumatic situations is greater, indicating a lack of coping skills. There are six forms of AD, each distinguished by their prominent symptoms: anxiety, depression, anxiety and depression combined, inappropriate behaviors, or inappropriate behaviors accompanied by sadness and anxiety, as well as unspecified.

Other Trauma- and Stress-Related Disorders

If a patient exhibits some but not all of a condition’s symptoms, or if there is insufficient data to make a more precise diagnosis, a psychiatrist may classify them as having other or undefined illnesses in this group.

Types of Traumatic Events

Trauma can take many forms, but some common situations are typically considered traumatic. A person may go through the following kinds of traumatic events at some time in their life:

  • Racism, discrimination, and oppression
  • Physical Injury
  • Violence in the community, war, or terrorism
  • Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse
  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Poverty
  • Childhood neglect
  • Sudden, unexplained separation from a loved one

Trauma usually fits into one of three types. Accidents and natural disasters are examples of traumas that occur just once and have a finite scope and duration. Other traumas are chronic and long-lasting, such as living with a chronic disease or experiencing domestic abuse. There are also types of trauma that are often ignored, such as those that happen after birth or surgery.

Types of therapy for ptsd

Symptoms of Trauma

Adults who experience trauma or stress disorders exhibit similar symptoms. PTSD causes the most severe and long-lasting symptoms, whereas ASD and adjustment difficulties are often less severe. 

The onset of PTSD symptoms might occur within a month after a stressful experience or years later. They last longer than a month and result in considerable damage. PTSD symptoms fall into four categories:

  • Intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event, including flashbacks and nightmares
  • Avoidance of anything (people, places, and objects) that reminds you of the trauma
  • Behavioral changes such as isolation from loved ones, insomnia, and engaging in harmful behaviors
  • Cognitive disturbances like irritability, negative thoughts about self or others, and fear or paranoia


If you are experiencing trauma-related symptoms, you may be diagnosed with PTSD. However, it is essential to note that not all traumatic events result in the diagnosis of a trauma-related disease. When speaking with a doctor or mental health professional, you will be asked about your current symptoms and how long ago the trauma occurred.

Depending on the precise nature of your symptoms, your doctor will determine whether you fulfill the diagnostic criteria for a trauma- or stress-related condition or maybe an adjustment disorder if you continue to suffer symptoms for an extended period of time after the traumatic event.


If you have suffered trauma, speaking with a therapist may be helpful. Try asking your doctor or a loved one for advice. A therapist can give support and help you gain a better understanding of your symptoms.

Your treatment will depend on the trauma-related symptoms you are experiencing. It may consist of psychotherapy, medications, self-care, or a mix of these approaches. Typically, treatment focuses on assisting individuals in integrating their emotional response to the trauma, as well as managing any ensuing mental health disorders, such as anxiety, sadness, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be used to assist people in evaluating their feelings and thoughts in relation to a traumatic event and replacing negative thoughts with more realistic ones. This can help you feel better and change your behavior over time.

Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a technique that combines aspects of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with eye or body movements. EMDR has been demonstrated to reduce the strength of the emotions associated with traumatic memories, helping to resolve the trauma.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT can help alleviate PTSD symptoms. Through mindfulness, DBT teaches you how to remain grounded in the present moment. The DBT skills of emotion regulation and distress tolerance can help you manage the pain and suffering you feel in response to intrusive thoughts.

Individual Therapy

In this sort of psychotherapy, a trained professional assists an individual in resolving their personal issues. Individual therapy is effective for the treatment of a range of emotional problems and mental disorders, such as PTSD.

Family Therapy

The primary focus of family therapy for PTSD is on the connections between the trauma survivor and family members. This type of therapy emphasizes clear communication that enables all participants to express their feelings in a safe manner.

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a helpful form of psychotherapy because it allows the individual to discuss their feelings, thoughts, and fears with others who have also experienced traumatic events.


If you have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of a traumatic event, you may potentially benefit from some medication. These medications may include:

  • FDA-approved antidepressants for the treatment of PTSD include the serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil (paroxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline).
  • Anti-anxiety medications, including benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam)
Image explaining symptoms of trauma

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the meaning of the word “traumatized?”

Traumatized refers to being highly startled and distressed in a manner that causes lasting emotional pain. Typically, traumatic events include physical or sexual assaults, acts of violence, and accidents. However, it may also entail responses to repeated events, such as persistent emotional abuse or childhood neglect.

How does being traumatized feel?

To be traumatized means to have experienced traumatic events that have had an impact on you or another person. For example, a car accident, abuse (physical or sexual), rape, natural catastrophes (hurricanes, earthquakes), the tragic loss of a loved one, etc. may cause people to experience emotional or behavioral issues. In other words, individuals suffer from PTSD symptoms and certain functional impairments as a result.

What classifies something as trauma?

The best approach to determine this is by obtaining an evaluation from a trauma specialist. The symptoms of trauma are as varied as individuals, and only a trained professional would be able to detect them. Anxiety may be normal for some people or a response to trauma for others. For some, insomnia may result from poor sleeping habits, while for others, it may be a trauma response.

The Recovery Team Can Help You Deal With Trauma

If your mental health problems appear to be related to trauma or stressful life experiences, the good news is that treatment is available. It could involve a mix of different approaches, such as conventional talk therapy, alternative treatments, and medications. Find out what could be the best course of treatment for you by speaking with your doctor or mental health professional.

If you need treatment for a trauma disorder alongside a substance abuse issue, The Recovery Team offers both inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment trauma-focused programs. Treatment involves CBT, EMDR, CBT, group therapy and individual therapy, medication management, and sessions with a psychiatrist.

Call our admissions line at (800) 817-1247 to enroll.