5 Observations About Trauma

bullet holes in a windshield

In our 10 years of practicing and teaching trauma informed care (TIC), we have seen a great deal of progress. Social services agencies who didn’t know what TIC stood for, five or six years ago, are diligently training their constituents.

Schools that have historically felt plagued by “bad” or “disruptive” behavior are looking at their students through a different lens – one that is trauma sensitive.

As leaders in trauma informed care, we are excited to see the universal increase in the understanding and use of TIC. We also have the following observations to add:

1. Not all trauma is the same.

One type of trauma is acute trauma, something that occurs once and has a huge impact on our lives (a tornado, house fire, or accident, for example).

Another type is complex trauma, which can result from exposure to multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature. The impact of this exposure is wide-ranging and long-term.

Both are equally concerning and complex trauma is what we see much more of in the life of a child in out-of-home care.

And, there is a third type of trauma that is of great concern to us and our clients. Historical trauma is a constellation of characteristics associated with massive cumulative group trauma across generations.

Genocide, slavery, forced relocation, and destruction of cultural practices are some examples of historical trauma. These experiences, shared by communities, can result in cumulative emotional and psychological wounds that are carried across generations and into the present.

This, compounded with present day experiences of discrimination, oppression and racism, contribute to the ongoing nature of historical trauma.

2. Complex trauma includes chronic stress.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines complex trauma as “the problem of children’s exposure to multiple or prolonged traumatic events and the impact of this exposure on their development.”

Typically, complex trauma exposure involves the simultaneous or sequential occurrence of child maltreatment—including psychological maltreatment, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and domestic violence—that is chronic, begins in early childhood, and occurs within the primary caregiving system.

3. Not all trauma experiences lead to trauma exposure and related consequences.

We suggest that trauma exposure is different from trauma response. The good news is the majority of people who have exposure don’t develop a long-term trauma response, which is a testament to the power of resiliency and support.

4. Early trauma response can increase potential exposure to later trauma.

Exposure to these initial traumatic experiences listed above—and the resulting emotional dysregulation and the loss of safety, direction, and the ability to detect or respond to danger cues—often sets off a chain of events leading to subsequent or repeated trauma exposure in adolescence and adulthood.

5. Promoting resiliency is key.

When we equate trauma exposure with response, we run the risk of disrespecting that same resiliency which has the potential to mitigate the effects of the exposure.

Consider what happens with little kids who fall and skin their knees – their parents’ reaction has the potential to make a difference in how much it hurts. The same holds true for trauma – response, resiliency and support matter and we only say “Yes” to trauma when both exposure happens and that exposure overwhelms and creates difficulty.

Trauma informed and trauma sensitive trainings.

Childhood trauma is complex. And, while trauma informed care is growing in popularity, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Learn more about trauma informed care or inquire about a training.


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  1. Pingback: How Can We Best Support Relinquishees? - David B. Bohl

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