Types of Psychological Trauma

Trauma is an emotional response to an experience of a stressful, frightening or disturbing event which is difficult to cope with and makes us feels out of control. A traumatic experience not only impacts our mental and emotional health but also our physical health and overall well-being (Quinn, 2023). A person exposed to trauma may feel a wide range of emotions during the event, after it occurred, and also for a long time afterwards. Such experiences leave an individual feeling shock, anger, overwhelm, helpless, shameful or guilty (Leonard, 2020). Below are three types of traumas that people may experience:

  1. Acute stress or acute trauma results from a single unexpected event or dangerous incident. Examples of acute trauma include physical, emotional or sexual assault, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, childbirth, serious injury or accident, experiencing a natural disaster, witnessing crime or loss of a loved one. Acute trauma also includes secondary trauma or vicarious trauma, which is defined by the indirect exposure or trauma from someone else’s trauma, for example, hearing about a traumatic incident faced by a friend or witnessing a road accident, learning of traumatic incidents through electronic media. The effects of acute trauma may last from days to months memories (DSM-5-TR). A few common effects are irritability, anxiety, disturbed sleep, concentration problems and intrusive memories (DSM-5-TR). 
  2. Chronic trauma results from repeatedly being directly exposed to traumatic incidents or to repeated traumatic events affecting other people. Examples of chronic trauma include being exposed to domestic violence or witnessing another family member being constantly abused, being a victim of bullying, or participating in war. The effects of chronic trauma may last from months to years, making it hard to get through everyday life and impact how we view ourselves and others. A few common effects are anxiety, disturbed mood, feelings of shame & guilt, and trouble regulating emotions. (World Health Organization, 2019)
  3. Complex trauma results from exposure to multiple traumatic events that may or may not be intertwined. It results from series of childhood experiences or repeated traumatic experiences during early development. Examples include childhood abuse, chronic neglect or abandonment, being exposed to interpersonal or domestic violence, racism or discrimination. The impacts of complex trauma on an individual may be long-lasting and may make them feel disconnected from themselves and others. A few effects are flashbacks of the events, memory lapses, nightmares, interpersonal relationship troubles, headaches and constantly being on ‘alert’. (World Health Organization, 2019)

Anyone can be negatively impacted by various types of traumas. They may have emotional outbursts, find it hard to cope with their feelings, or socially withdraw from others. Therapists employ different scientific and evidence-based therapeutic techniques to help individuals build resilience, process and work through trauma. CFIR-CPRI has many clinicians available to help you better understand experiences and emotions you may experience.


American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Trauma- and Stressor- related disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed., text rev.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787.x07_Trauma_and_Stressor_Related_Disorders

Leonard, J. (2020, June 03). What is Trauma? What to know. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/trauma#definition

Quinn, D. (2023, August 03). Trauma. Types of Trauma: The 7 Most Common Types & Their Impactshttps://www.sandstonecare.com/blog/types-of-trauma/

World Health Organization. (2019). Disorders specifically associated with stress. In International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th ed.). https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/991786158Lakshmi Mupparthi, M.A, R.P is a psychotherapist working under the supervision of Dr. Melodie Britt, C. Psych, at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) and practices a trauma-informed approach. She works with individuals and couples navigating challenges related to stress, relationships, trauma, conflict, attachment and self-esteem.