What is Trauma?

pexels akilmazumder 1072824
pexels akilmazumder 1072824
pexels akilmazumder 1072824

Trauma was historically considered to be a one-off, life-threatening event. Now, it encompasses any event/s that cause deep distress/disturbance/harm or injury and has long-term negative effects on the individual’s wellbeing. For many people, their sense of self and ability to regulate their emotions becomes impaired.

Traumatic life events can include exposure to war zones, natural disasters, being in an accident, and physical and/or sexual attacks. However, these are not the only traumas that people can experience. Many people can also be traumatized by what is happening in their relationships. For example, from bullying, interpersonal violence, childhood abuse/neglect, infidelity betrayal, death of a loved one, miscarriages, racism, etc.

Responses to trauma can be different from person to person. Not all people who experience traumatic events go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many people have strong emotional or physical reactions following experience of a traumatic event, which is normal. For most, these reactions subside over a few days or weeks. When the symptoms persist and get worse, however, that person may be at risk for developing more serious conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder/s, alcohol or drug problems.

This may be due to several factors such as the nature of the traumatic event, quality of social support available, additional life stressors, personality, and coping resources.

 Symptoms of trauma can be emotional, physical, mental, and behavioural.

  • Emotional symptoms can include fear, numbness and detachment, depression, guilt, anger and irritability, anxiety and panic.
  • Physical symptoms can include excessive alertness (always on the look-out for signs of danger), being easily startled, fatigue/exhaustion, disturbed sleep and bodily aches and pains.
  • Mental/cognitive symptoms can include intrusive thoughts and memories of the event, nightmares, flashbacks of the event, poor concentration and memory, disorientation and confusion.
  • Behavioural symptoms can include avoidance of places or activities that are reminders of the event, social withdrawal and isolation and loss of interest in normal activities.

Whilst some people experience problems directly after the traumatic event, others can experience them later on (i.e., have a delayed onset of symptoms).


It is important to seek psychological assistance if the symptoms are too distressing, or if they are impairing on areas such as work, relationships, and sense of self/identity.

There are a number of trauma-focused psychological treatments available, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). The aim of these treatments is to improve on understanding/education, build on stress management and relaxation strategies, and help the individual to confront feared situations and distressing memories.

In addition to trauma-focused therapies, some individuals may also find medication such as antidepressants to be useful.

Speak to mental health and medical professionals to discuss your options.

With the right treatment, trauma can be manageable.

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Vivian Chau (Clinical Psychologist

Vivian is a Clinical Psychologist who has a compassionate, open-minded and collaborative approach. She helps her clients navigate through life’s challenges and guides her clients to reach their full potential. Her passions are in supporting individuals experiencing relational trauma (e.g., childhood trauma), mood disorders, interpersonal / relationship issues, and parenting-related stress. She has experience in clinical, forensic, and academic settings, and has facilitated a mindfulness parenting program.


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