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  • Jessica Abegglen, LPC, NBCC

What you NEED to know about Trauma

If you work in the field of education, psychology, or medicine, trauma is not a new concept to you. Much of our training and continuing education focuses on better understanding the intricacies of trauma, as well as how to support those who have experienced trauma. But if you are not in one of these fields, or if you do not work with those who have experienced trauma (or you are a survivor of trauma yourself), you may not know much about trauma above and beyond the view that someone who has been traumatized must have experienced a traumatic event first-hand.

If you do a google search, such as: "What is trauma?" you will get millions of hits, and just about that many different definitions/descriptions/examples of the word "trauma."

For example:

  • The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) categorizes trauma as: "An exposure to an event that threatens or harms the physical or emotional integrity of the individual or someone close to the individual that overwhelms the person's ability to cope and creates significant difficulties in functioning."

  • The American Psychological Association posted an article regarding trauma, in which they define trauma as: "An emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster."

  • The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, in their article, "What is Trauma?" states that: "Trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing."

See what I mean?

Well, here's the most important thing you need to know about trauma: it's subjective.

The reason there are so many different definitions, descriptions, symptoms, etc., is because trauma is subjective, and rarely clear-cut.

An event is only "traumatic" when someone has a trauma response to it. Something that is traumatic to you, might not be traumatic to someone else, and something traumatic to someone else may not affect you at all.

How can that be? How can two different people respond so differently to what seems like a traumatic event?

Well, there are lots of reason for it, but here is a quick list:

  • genetic pre-disposition to mental illnesses

  • a history of exposure to adverse childhood experiences

  • a history of surviving other traumatic events

  • a person's general resiliency

  • etc...

This little post can't even begin to address the complexity of trauma -- a complexity deepened by the subjective nature of trauma. We didn't even begin to touch on the array of symptoms a person could experience after a traumatic event, the different types of trauma like complex and historical trauma, secondary trauma and compassion fatigue, or even the different approaches to treating trauma. Maybe we will delve into each of those areas in later posts...

But for now, I urge you to remember that trauma is subjective and I'll add: complicated.

Trauma is in the eye of the survivor. And those of us on the outside? Well, we don't get to decide what is traumatic for someone else. What we can do, is try to understand.

If you are interested in learning more, I would start with one of these sites:

Take care,



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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]

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