PTSD and the Types of Trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects many people. What we once thought reserved for those in combat, we now know as something anyone can experience. PTSD differs from acute stress disorder. Instead of short-term issues, those with PTSD have symptoms that affect their daily lives on a long-term basis. We estimate almost 8 million Americans have had PTSD or have it now. There is another 8% of our population expected to develop PTSD. Fortunately, there is help with a PTSD treatment center.

According to Brainline:

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association revised the PTSD diagnostic criteria in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)1. They include PTSD in a new category in DSM-5, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders.

What we know is trauma causes PTSD. And it’s not just combat trauma or trauma that first responders experience. While those are valid types of trauma, every person can get PTSD, not just soldiers and police, EMTs, or firefighters.

Here is more on PTSD and types of trauma. In this article, we look at the traumatic experiences that are common to those with PTSD. The good news is that there is help for those suffering with PTSD.

What Types of Trauma Result in PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder directly relates to the traumatic events in a person’s life. These traumatic events span all kinds of trauma, such as:

  • Military combat or living in a combat zone as a civilian.
  • Sexual assault or threats of sexual assault.
  • Violence to the person or witnessing severe violence.
  • Experiencing a natural disaster.
  • A bad car accident.
  • A plane crash.
  • Rape.
  • Being exposed to constant trauma, like a first responder.
  • Losing a loved one.

These are some, but not all, examples of the trauma that causes PTSD.

We have biological instincts that help us cope with danger. This fight-or-flight instinct often leaves us with ongoing effects. We can consider PTSD a stress response variant, and it’s a part of our body’s reaction to returning to normal. Yet, for many, this is a consequence of the PTSD itself.

An important note is that PTSD affects a small portion of the population exposed to trauma. For example, an entire town goes through a category 5 hurricane with life-altering effects. Most of the population of that town moves on. Yet a small number experience PTSD symptoms that do not go away in a few weeks or months. Researchers don’t know why this happens. However, risk factors may be the difference for why one person is fine, and another has debilitating symptoms.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness showcases some statistics:

PTSD affects 3.6 percent of the U.S. adult population—about 9 million individuals. About 37 percent of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms. Women are significantly more likely to experience PTSD than men.

What Types of Trauma Causes PTSD?

Variations of trauma cause PTSD in some. These seven trauma types cover a wide range of traumatic events, and some overlap each other.

Acute Types of Trauma

This type of trauma is from one event only, but one that is overwhelming. Think of the natural disaster mentioned. Or a car accident. Even those with a single event of assault or abuse fall under this category. Witnessing violence is another stressor in acute trauma.

Intergenerational Trauma

In this type of trauma, instead of the victim experiencing the trauma, they get it by living with someone with trauma. These are emotional and psychological effects, and we can pass this adaptation and coping patterns down through generations.

Repetitive Trauma

This trauma category happens because of exposure to traumatic events. These are prolonged traumatic events. They may also be chronic or multiple episodes.These are almost always overwhelming events. An example is treatment for a medical condition like chemotherapy. This is done continuously; hence, the repetitive trauma.

Complex Trauma

This results from prolonged, chronic, or multiple traumatic experiences. These are overwhelming events that usually relate to personal relationships. An example is a history of domestic or family violence.

Historical Trauma

This is a cumulative psychological and emotional hurt spanning across generations and lifespans. One difference it has from other types of trauma is that it originates in large group trauma. Examples include war, slavery, colonialism, and genocide.

Developmental Trauma

This trauma starts in childhood and includes early onset exposure to repetitive or ongoing trauma. This alters healthy attachment and often happens within the caregiving system. Examples include:

  • Witnessing violence or death.
  • Neglect.
  • Betrayal or coercion.
  • Assault.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Physical abuse.

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Vicarious Trauma

This one is unique from other forms of trauma.

Creates a change in the service provider resulting from empathetic engagement with a client’s/patient’s traumatic background. It occurs when an individual who was not an immediate witness to the trauma absorbs and integrates disturbing aspects of the traumatic experience into his or her own functioning.

Childhood Types of Trauma

PTSD types of trauma affect children and adults. The differences aren’t that noticeable, and as with adults, some overlap.


Being bullied affects a child’s emotional, social, psychological, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, it is all too common today.

Community Violence

In this trauma, there is exposure to violence that is interpersonal and does not relate the child to the victim. And it happens in public areas.

Complex Trauma

This is the same as mentioned above. This is exposure to more than one traumatic event.


Just like adults, children are susceptible to trauma from disasters. Whether it’s a fire or a tornado, these children are vulnerable. They may feel unsafe or worry that the disaster will happen again.

Early Childhood Trauma

This is another category that adults also face. Take note that this early childhood trauma usually happens before the age of six.

Intimate Partner Violence

This trauma stems from domestic violence. It may expose the child to violence among their parents or other family members.

Medical Trauma

Like with adults, multiple medical events or a major medical event can cause PTSD.

Physical Abuse

This is when there is real physical injury to the child. This may be from a caregiver, parent, teacher, or anyone taking care of the child.

Refugee Trauma

Adults aren’t the only ones affected by war or persecution. Children get PTSD from the situations too.

Sexual Abuse

1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse; this causes great trauma and PTSD in many who have experienced it.

Terrorism and Violence

Whether it’s a shooting or a bombing, children exposed to violence or terrorism often have issues with PTSD.

Traumatic Grief

Grief affects each person differently, and children are no exception. Some adjust fine, while others have difficulty facing the truth or go through extended time periods of grief.

How to Find Help for the Types of Trauma Related to PTSD

You or a loved one suffering from PTSD trauma should seek professional help. A PTSD treatment center has the tools and knowledge to help you heal and live a more peaceful life without fear and grief. If you want to learn more about how we can help you, contact us. You don’t have to live with the effects of trauma. Whether you have nightmares or anger issues (or other effects), there is help, so you can live your very best life.