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Types of Trauma

This article is an overview of the different types of trauma we may encounter in our work and experience ourselves. Other articles in the trauma section will provide strategies for how to support children and young people at a universal level.

Firstly, a definition of trauma: Barnardo’s use this one in our own trauma-informed practice training:

‘An event, series of events or set of circumstances, that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening, and that has a lasting adverse effect on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual wellbeing.'

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

It’s helpful to consider the 3 E’s when working with a child, young person and their family:

  1. The Event(s)that took place
  2. The individual’s Experience of that event
  3. The long-lasting adverse Effects of that event(s)

Trauma is Personal: people can experience the same event or events in different ways.

The same trauma can have significant effects for one person and may not do so for another.  

It could relate to parts of a person’s identity - if they’ve been discriminated against /bullied. 

It could relate to situations where they felt invalidated/powerless/ unsupported. 

The trauma may be experienced by:

  • a person directly
  • witnessing the harm to someone else
  • hearing about the experiences of someone else
  • living in a traumatic atmosphere
  • being in a community or family experiencing trauma

The trauma may be:

  • a one-off event
  • repeated events of the same type 
  • repeated events that differ from each other 

Karen Triesman, Clinical Psychologist, trainer and author, has developed this very useful infographic to explain the complexity of trauma: 


To supplement the above, here are definitions of some of the types of trauma you may come across:

Developmental or Early Childhood Trauma

  • When young children (0-6) and inutero experience trauma which sets their development off track. Could be as a result of intentional violence or witnessing disasters such as war.

Refugee Trauma                                       

  • Related to war or persecution that may affect their mental and physical health long after the events have occurred.
  • Can appear in country of origin, during the journey or new home.

 Traumatic grief, loss, and bereavement

  • When a person develops significant trauma responses to the death of a loved one which impact on their functioning and are severe or prolonged or 
  • When a person has experienced non-death traumatic loss, such as one’s home and belongings, or have been separated from their loved ones.

Medical, injury and birth trauma

  • ‘Paediatric medical traumatic stress refers to a set of psychological and physiological responses of children and their families to pain, injury, serious illness, medical procedures, and invasive or frightening treatment experiences. Medical trauma may occur as a response to a single or multiple medical events.’ (NCTSN)

Racial Trauma

  • Occurs when people are subjected to racism in its various manifestations 
  • Impacts at individual, family, and community levels.

Community trauma

  • Occurs when poor living, educational, economic, and social conditions affect a whole community.
  • Can include situations where there is violence in the community such as shootings, stabbings that people are exposed to.

Secondary trauma

  • This is very similar to vicarious trauma but could be one experience with one person who has suffered a direct trauma rather than cumulatively.

Vicarious trauma

  • Education staff often experience this as you have regular contact with multiple people who have suffered direct trauma and empathise with them.
  • This has a cumulative effect over time affecting your beliefs and feelings.

We have not included forms of trauma that educators may be more familiar with such as sexual abuse.

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