What is Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional reaction to a very distressing event. Such events could include an accident, a violent attack, bullying, abuse, witnessing a distressing event like death, or living through a natural disaster. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one's ability to cope or to integrate the emotions involved with the experience.

Symptoms depend on the type and intensity of the trauma, and on whether it is a single event or repetitive experiences. The symptoms can come on immediately after the event or come on much later usually triggered by a life event. The immediate reaction is usually shock and denial and a feeling of numbness, this is generally followed by physical symptoms such as headaches and emotional reactions such as worry, upset and not being able to sleep. These symptoms gradually disappear over a short period of time, however if the symptoms last longer than a few weeks, the person may be suffering from a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

About a third of people who go through trauma develop PTSD. The symptoms are

- Vivid flashbacks

- Intrusive thoughts and images

- Nightmares

- Intense distress at reminders of the trauma

- A heightened sense of alertness

- Anxiety, depression

- Difficulty in concentrating

- Physical symptoms like pain, sweating and nausea

These symptoms may affect your work, relationships, and personal interests. Some people suffer from a condition called complex PTSD which occurs if the person has had a number of distressing events or repetitive distressing events. Complex PTSD can come on years after the events and is common in people who suffer from childhood sexual abuse.

Risk factors

In reality, anyone can develop PTSD. A previous history of trauma unexpected sudden or recurrent events increases risk. Adverse life events, low self-esteem, lack of support and help also increases risk.


The effects of trauma usually improve with time. So, it is important to get support, talk to someone you trust, and access self-help if you need to. If the symptoms persist and they are affecting your life, then you need help. There are many different types of treatment available for PTSD. What you need depends on the type and intensity of the trauma, and the length of time that has lapsed between the event and the onset of symptoms. It is important to have an assessment by an expert, who will advise you on treatment which best suits your needs.

Trauma focussed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a form of talking therapy which is very effective. The person with the help of a therapist learns. How negative thinking patterns can affect feelings and behaviour.

Exposure therapy and desensitisation is also effective. The person talks through with a therapist repeatedly the events that led to the trauma, which helps to reduce the fear and unpleasant feelings associated with the trauma.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing EMDR is a form of desensitisation that aims to reduce the distress caused by the events. Medication can also be helpful to reduce the chemical imbalance in the brain which gives rise to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

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