Fall semester topics

Childhood traumas/psychological trauma

What kinds of events can cause psychological trauma?
Traumatic events come in many forms and are generally distinguished from more commonplace misfortunes by the severity of the event and the intensity of a person's reactions to it. Psychological trauma in general can result from a single, one-time traumatic event such as sexual assault, physical attacks, car accidents, natural disasters, crimes, deaths, and other violent events. It can also include responses to chronic or repetitive stressful experiences such as child sexual and physical abuse, battering relationships, bullying, neglect, urban violence etc. However, people sustaining such trauma in childhood may react differently to differently to similar events. One person may perceive an event to be traumatic that another may not and not all people who experience a traumatic event will become psychologically traumatized.

How do I know if my experience is considered traumatic?
Psychological trauma is the personal experience or witnessing of a highly stressful event in which:

1. The individual is overwhelmed and unable to cope with his/her emotional reaction to the event, or

2. The individual experiences an intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, or threat to life or bodily integrity.

Thus, psychological trauma is caused by experiencing a traumatic event that overwhelms a person's ability to cope and leaves them fearing death, bodily injury, or psychological damage.

Much of the information above has been adapted from: Giller, Esther, What is psychological trauma? The Sidran Foundation; AND Carlson, Eve B. & Ruzek, Joseph. Effects of traumatic experiences. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Recommended books

1. Herman, Judith L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York: Harper Collins.
2. Allen, Jon G. (1999). Coping with trauma: A guide to self-understanding. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
3. Matsakis, Aphrodite (1996). I can't get over it: A handbook for trauma survivors. New Harbinger Publishers.
4. Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie (1992). Shattered assumptions: Towards a new psychology of trauma. Free Press.

Additional web resources