What Are the 3 Types of Trauma?


When you have a hard time sleeping at night, are more jumpy or on edge, or you are feeling constantly irritable and snap at your loved ones, you may be suffering from more than just a bad day. Whether you know it or not, you could be dealing with trauma in your life. 

Understanding how to deal with trauma requires the need to understand the three types of trauma along with their symptoms and treatment options. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about trauma. 

What is Trauma?

According to the American Psychological Association, trauma refers to your emotional response to a horrible event. Experts commonly refer to trauma as a normal response to an abnormal event. 

If you’ve experienced events such as a natural disaster, sexual assault, or an accident, you will typically experience denial and shock immediately. A traumatic event could be something that happened to you, or something you saw happen to someone else.

In the long term, trauma manifests itself as nightmares, flashbacks, unpredictable emotions like lashing out, and even physical symptoms. Sometimes your trauma symptoms will go away after a few weeks past the event. Other times, trauma can last for years after the event, severely impacting a person’s mental health.

Three Different Types of Trauma

Psychological trauma falls into one of three categories: acute trauma, chronic trauma, and complex trauma. 

Furthermore, for each category, there are two different ways in which trauma can manifest. These are emotional trauma and physical trauma. Physical trauma is typically linked to a physical injury, whereas emotional trauma would likely be tied to emotional abuse.

Acute Trauma

Acute trauma is trauma from a single event as opposed to repeated events. Thus a car accident, a natural disaster, and assault can all be considered acute trauma. The severity of the event can threaten an individual’s physical or emotional security. It can also create a lasting impression on the individual’s mental state. 

When you don’t treat acute trauma, the individual can suffer from any one of the following symptoms: 

  • Irritation
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Inability to focus
  • Lack of trust
  • Failure to care for self
  • Disconnection from surroundings
  • Threatening behavior

When not treated, a single traumatic event can cause symptoms that can affect an individual for years. 

Chronic Trauma

Chronic trauma occurs when an individual experiences a distressing or traumatic event over a long period of time. Sexual abuse, bullying, domestic violence, exposure to safety insecurity such as war, and long-term illness all cause chronic trauma. 

An individual suffering from chronic trauma may present the following symptoms: 

  • Unpredictable emotional outbursts
  • Extreme anger
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks

A qualified clinician can help walk an individual through traumas or traumatic events to assist in healing and alleviating symptoms. 

Complex Trauma

When an individual experiences multiple traumatic events, they’re subject to complex trauma. Think of complex trauma as a mixture of acute and chronic trauma. Individuals in abusive relationships or who have experienced or witnessed neglect, family fights, and domestic violence repetitively present symptoms of complex trauma. 

Victims suffering from complex trauma may experience the following symptoms:

  • Health problems such as headaches, fatigue, and poor immune responses. 
  • Difficulty in relationships such as the inability to trust 
  • Poor performance at school and work due to a lack of focus 

The duration and severity of events that lead to complex trauma make this type of trauma difficult to treat. 

Treatment Options for Trauma

No matter the type of trauma, a qualified clinician can help an individual find the best treatment option. Knowing and understanding the type of trauma you’re dealing with is a good way to start. Here are several treatment options. 

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy might look like a weekly conversation at first. Therapists will have you talk through your trauma and explain how it has affected your life, then work with you to help you find new ways to live with your trauma. 

A therapist helps you cognitively process your event and the trauma that has led you to unhealthy behaviors and reactions. Changing how you think about the trauma can help change how you feel.( Ex: it’s my fault, the world is dangerous). Includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) & Prolonged Exposure (PE). Eventually, you walk away with coping mechanisms that help you to live a more stable life. 

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

With prolonged exposure therapy, a therapist works with you to confront parts of your traumatic event that you may have been avoiding. First, you learn breathing techniques that assist in easing your stress. Then you address the things you’ve been avoiding one at a time. 

Eventually, your therapist has you recount your traumatic experience. As homework, you may listen to a recording of yourself and replay/confront the event. 

Examples of PE include: 

  • Narrative – where you retell your story over and over again
  • En Vivo – direct experiential confrontation (exposure) of feared objects, activities, places,  or situations
  • Virtual Reality – can replay events in a safe/virtual environment

Over time and exposure, your trauma symptoms will decrease. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a powerful psychotherapy technique which has been very successful in helping people who suffer from trauma, anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post traumatic stress and many other emotional problems. EMDR is considered a breakthrough therapy because of its simplicity and the fact that it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.

The EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation, right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation, which repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system. This assists the neurophysiological system, the basis of the mind/body connection, to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

The way we think affects the way we feel. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is trauma-focused, increasing awareness of these thoughts by identifying, challenging, and replacing maladaptive or distorted memories and/or behaviors with more rational, accurate, and true ones. 


When you suffer from trauma or PTSD, you perceive threats differently. Your neurotransmitters are relaying false positives, making you think there’s a threat when there’s not. 

Medication can regulate neurotransmitters so they work properly and help to stabilize your mood. The following medications are most commonly used for trauma:

  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline  (Zoloft)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)

You may have not heard of these drugs, but you may know their commercial names: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, and Effexor. The FDA has approved Paxil and Zoloft as appropriate treatments for PTSD. 

Managing Trauma 

There are other activities that can effectively assist you in managing trauma, in addition to therapy. For example, talking to friends, fellows in recovery, and loved ones –and leaning on them for support– is a great way to decrease isolation and manage trauma. You do not need to suffer in silence or alone.  

Also,  make taking care of yourself a priority by eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, exercising, and just focusing on overall health. 

On the days you don’t want to leave the house, make yourself get out. Isolating by yourself or self-medicating by using drugs or alcohol as an escape or coping mechanism does not lead to a healthy outcome. 

Finally, be patient. Overcoming trauma takes time. Give yourself a little bit of grace, especially on hard days.

When you’re looking into rehab for trauma, look at a holistic treatment program that considers all aspects of your individual needs, including mind-body-spirit. A single remedy will not solve all of your problems. Recovery requires work that involves the holistic approach we teach at No Matter What Recovery.

Understand Your Trauma

When you understand the types of trauma that exist, you have more awareness of healthy ways to deal with the trauma that better serve your life in recovery. If you’ve experienced a traumatic event and are suffering from the symptoms of trauma, seek help. 

We have excellent programs that can help you. Contact us now for an appointment and evaluation.