Trauma counselling helps people to address, come to terms with, and recover from a traumatic event. It helps people who are struggling emotionally or psychologically after such an event.

What is Trauma?

Trauma, in the medical field, refers to any injury to any part of the body. In the field of psychology, trauma can similarly be understood as any injury to the emotional well-being of an individual. Using this broad definition, we must remember that there are varying degrees of trauma, both physical and psychological.

A cut on the finger or a bruise on the knee is, technically speaking, a trauma to that body part, but it probably doesn’t require extensive emergency care. Consistent with that example, a person may experience a disappointment, have a frightening experience, or feel worried about something without needing extensive intervention to restore them to emotional balance. However, since physical traumas are visible, they tend to receive more care and attention than psychological traumas, which are intangible, invisible, and poorly understood.

In psychological trauma, there are two main classifications of trauma. The first is classic trauma, meaning that it fits the diagnostic criteria for a traumatic incident as defined in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). Specifically, it states that a traumatic incident results from

…exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member or other close associate.

So, in other words, classic trauma is where you or someone else suffers a serious physical injury, or almost does. This seems like a fairly narrow definition when it comes to the many forms of psychological trauma. In recognition of this limitation, scientists have been studying trauma in great depth and have formulated a theory explaining the second type of trauma: complex trauma

Complex trauma is when many smaller traumatic incidents occur over a period of time, creating a pattern of seeing the world through a filter of stress and fear. For example, verbal abuse or bullying may not result in an actual physical injury and a single incident may not have lasting effects (although it is possible) but a repeated pattern of abuse can dramatically alter an individual’s sense of safety in the world.

On another level, interpersonal trauma does in fact lead to physical changes within the victim, though these are often not visible to the naked eye. Each experience we have modifies the structure and function of the brain. So, if there is a repeated pattern of verbal or emotional abuse, the brain would adapt to that experience to be able to cope with it (though not necessarily in a healthy way). This adaptation is often a short-term solution that leads to long-term damage. In other words, the complex trauma has caused a maladaptive physical change within the victim of the trauma.