Listen to “#9: What is Trauma?” on Spreaker.
In this episode of PTSD Bytes, host and clinical psychologist Pearl McGee-Vincent discusses trauma with Dr. Debra Kaysen, a psychologist at Stanford University and research scientist at the National Center for PTSD.
What is trauma?
Kaysen explains the difference between “big T” and “little t” trauma. “Little t” traumas are stressful events, while “big T” traumas are more severe, for example, threats to somebody’s life or sexual assault. Most people experience “little t” trauma at some point in their life. “Big T” trauma is less common, though not as rare as people may think.
Some people may be more at risk, such as those with mental health or substance use problems. Your risk for “big T” changes based on age, gender, race, and ethnicity and sexual orientation. However, anyone can experience it.
Difference between trauma and PTSD
Trauma is an event that happens to you. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the set of symptoms and reactions that can occur after you experience trauma. These reactions are quite common and can include nightmares, recurring memories, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, feeling jumpy, feelings of guilt or shame and more.
These reactions to traumatic events are similar in people around the world and across different types of traumas.
One misconception is that all people who experience a “big T” will get PTSD symptoms. However, some people get better on their own. It does not always mean continued suffering. Another misconception is that if you have PTSD symptoms, you will have them forever. As Kaysen says, there are plenty of options that can help you recover from a traumatic event.
Even in situations where the trauma is still happening, such as for those living in a war zone, treatment has been shown to help. And while not a treatment, PTSD Coach is a free mobile app with many tools that can help you cope with any reactions you may have afterward.
If you are a Veteran who is experiencing a crisis or supporting a loved one who is, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for immediate assistance, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat.
Click here for more on the PTSD Bytes series.