What is a traumatic experience?


Although I have in the past discussed the importance of a trauma-informed practice, it is also important to know what a traumatic event actually is. Unfortunately, one’s initial suspicion is correct in that a traumatic experience is an extremely unpleasant experience with real and unfortunate human consequences. However, due to advancements in trauma research, we now have access to a far more detailed definition.

An event is defined as traumatic when an individual’s internal and external resources are inadequate to cope with the circumstances the individual is facing. When a person is in the thralls of a traumatic experience, he or she may experience a threat to life, bodily integrity or sanity. The American Psychological Association elaborates on a traumatic event:

“[An] emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.”

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External threats that result in trauma may also include experiencing, witnessing, anticipating, or being confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or threats to the physical integrity of one’s self or others.

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Although outside the scope of this post, elsewhere you can find how common traumatic experiences are among family law litigants. 

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