Questions and Answers: Trauma

Q. What Causes Psychological Trauma?

A. Trauma is the result of being exposed to extreme, often life-threatening stress that is accompanied by a an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Examples of incidents that might lead to trauma include:

  • rape
  • sexual abuse
  • domestic violence
  • military combat

Q. Are there any other causes of trauma?

A. Yes. Because what causes something to be traumatic is partly related to perception, many events can cause traumatic stress. Some less obvious examples include:

  • sports injury
  • life threatening illness
  • invasive surgery
  • car accident
  • bullying
  • sudden death of a loved one
  • ongoing, relentless stress
  • earthquake or flood
  • neglect

Q. Okay, what are some signs that someone has traumatic stress?

A. There are a number of flags that might indicate trauma, such as:

  • difficulty functioning at work
  • terrifying nightmares or flashbacks
  • avoidant behavior (often related to the circumstances of the trauma)
  • difficulty with relationships
  • severe anxiety or depression
  • abuse of alcohol or drugs

Q. Any specific symptoms?

A. Yes, while many symptoms of traumatic stress overlap with depression and anxiety, there are a few key signs to look for. When such symptoms occur in clusters there is a likelihood of trauma. Such symptoms include:

  • shock
  • numbness
  • social withdrawal
  • confusion
  • fearfulness
  • panic attacks
  • recurrent nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • self-blame

Q. Can trauma really affect my health?

A. Yes, there are two medical outcomes related to trauma:

  • Higher rates of health problems
  • Higher rates of unhealthy behavior

Q. What health problems are associated with psychological trauma?

A. Research has linked trauma to increased rates of:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • poor immune function

Q.  What about unhealthy behaviors?

A.  People suffering with the after effects of trauma tend to have:

  • poor dietary habits
  • obesity
  • abuse of tobacco, alcohol, drugs

Q. Any other problems associated with trauma?

A. Yes, because unhealthy behaviors and health problems tend to reinforce one another, trauma patients tend to end up in the doctor’s office more frequently:

  • have higher rates of outpatient visits to ER
  • have higher rates of primary care visits
  • have higher rates of surgery procedures
  • they also have higher rates of depression
  • tend to cope by avoiding things which leads to greater cardiovascular reactivity, and impaired immune function

Q. Is there an effective treatment for trauma?

A. Yes! If trauma is properly diagnosed it can be treated effectively. But trauma is best treated by a mental health professional with a specialty in treating trauma.


Published by


Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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