What is Complex Trauma?



What is Trauma?
Trauma refers to the psychological distress that follows a very stressful event in which a person directly or indirectly experiences threat to her/his safety. Examples of traumatic events are: being trapped in a burning building, being robbed at gun point; subjected to child abuse or neglect, victim of a sexual assault. It is normal to experience distress in the face of such traumatic events. In the aftermath, some people do not recover fully, and suffer lasting psychological disturbance that affects their personal, interpersonal and social lives.

The most commonly known trauma-related psychological disorder is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 also classifies other trauma-and stressor-related disorders such as acute stress disorder, adjustment disorders, reactive attachment disorder, and disinhibited social engagement disorder.

Type 1 and Type 2 Trauma

When we talk about trauma, we can refer to either the content of the traumatic event or the psychological reactions that follow the events or both.

There are several classification systems for trauma. Briere and Scott (2006) classify trauma type based on the content of the event. However, this classification system may be too simplistic as the effects of trauma can vary depending on the social context, relationship between victim and perpetrator, the ability to cope with the event, etc. Neborsky (2003) classifies trauma based on the distinctive features of the relationships between the victim and the perpetrator and the emotions involved. For example, a victim who was sexually abused by a stranger may experience some different psychological symptoms, compared to a victim of sexual abuse by a caregiver, who may have to cope with betrayal, trust issues, and anger. A more thorough classification system is based on two categories of trauma exposure based on the type, severity and breadth of effects.

Type 1 Trauma refers to single traumatic event such as natural disaster or car accident. These events can differ in the severity and duration of the effects. A natural disaster can have very different psychological effects than the trauma that follows a car accident.

Type 2, or Complex Trauma, refers to the repeated exposure to threats of violence, such as regular exposure to family violence, or repeated abuse including sexual or emotional in nature.

Reactions to Complex Trauma are more complicated and long lasting, involving affective and cognitive disturbance, maladaptive perceptions of self, and others. For example, a young girl who was subjected to an extended period of sexual abuse by a family member is likely to have difficulties forming intimate relationship with a man, as an adult. This is because she had to learnt not to trust man in general, and not getting into an intimate relationship is a way of protecting herself.

Emotion-Focused Therapy for Trauma (EFTT) specially deals with Complex Trauma (Paivio & Pascual-Leone, 2010). This is done through a process called “imaginal confrontation”.

In our upcoming workshops, Introduction to Complex Trauma and Emotion-Focused Therapy for Complex Trauma (EFFT), you will have a chance to understand more about complex trauma, how EFFT views and treats complex trauma, and the distinctive features of EFFT as a treatment model for complex trauma.

Register NOW!

Paivio, S. C., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2010). Trauma and Its Effects Emotion-Focused Therapy for Complex Trauma: An Integrative Approach (pp. 13-32). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.