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Types of Trauma

There are several different types of trauma, and each can affect children and their development in different ways.

Trauma results from an event, series of events or set of circumstances experienced by an individual that is:

  1. Physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening, and
  2. Has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.

Many children who experience a traumatic event or series of events have a traumatic stress response, which may be severe or recurrent.

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma can occur when a person has experienced multiple traumatic events. These events are often severe, pervasive, and interpersonal in nature, such as abuse or neglect by a parent or other trusted adult. Persistent poverty and structural racism can also contribute to complex trauma.

Complex trauma can be particularly disruptive to a child’s development due to its chronic nature, its impact on multiple areas of functioning and the extent to which trusted caregivers are involved.

For more information on complex trauma, visit The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).

Secondary Trauma

Secondary Traumatic Stress is the emotional duress that can develop from exposure to the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Its symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For more information read the NCTSN Secondary Traumatic Stress Fact Sheet for Child-Serving Professionals

Racial Trauma

Racial trauma is the long-term effect of racism on someone’s mental and physical health. Also called race-based traumatic stress, it results from racial bias, discrimination, and abuse experienced either in person or indirectly. The trauma can impact a child’s or adult’s ability to form healthy relationships, focus on school or work, and even feel safe. Systemic and structural racism also contribute to emotional injury and can lead to negative outcomes for children.

For more information, visit the Mental Health America page on Racial Trauma

To learn more, check out this video series on racial trauma and equity