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Understanding the Difference Between PTSD and Trauma

Understanding the Difference Between PTSD and Trauma

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” It often results in anxiety, dread, and tension. Whether witnessing or personally experiencing it, these reactions are normal. Circumstances that can cause the response of trauma can be a single event or multiple incidents over an extended period.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “[R]esponses to trauma can last for weeks to months before people start to feel normal again.” Most of the time, these responses gradually lessen and ultimately disappear altogether. It can persist, however, and progress as time passes. When this happens, it can evolve into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How PTSD Is Related to Trauma

The CDC defines PTSD as “an intense physical and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of the event that last for many weeks or months after the traumatic event.” PTSD and trauma are closely related, but they are not the same thing. Where trauma is the emotional response to a terrible event, PTSD is a far more severe disorder surrounding the event.

Untreated trauma can progress into PTSD. However, proper guidance and care can help to minimize its effects and overall impact. PTSD does not exist without it. The word “post” in “post-traumatic” means after trauma. On the other hand, trauma can and does exist without ever developing into more serious conditions like PTSD.

Comparing the Symptoms

We’ve established that trauma and PTSD are closely connected. Now, let’s take a look at the symptoms associated with each. Both concerns have associated fear and anxiety. However, the symptoms are quite different between the two.

The Effects of Trauma

Trauma’s effects can be divided into two categories: initial and delayed. The initial side effects include but are not limited to, the following:

  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Sorrow
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling on-edge
  • Numb to your surroundings/emotions
  • Dissociation 
  • Confusion

The delayed symptoms of trauma often involve relentless exhaustion, nightmares, flashbacks, depression, and avoidance tendencies. This leads to avoiding anything related to the traumatic event, such as the feelings surrounding it or similar circumstances.

The Effects of PTSD

Although PTSD is the result of trauma, the symptoms involved differ significantly. While trauma symptoms can be organized into two groups, the symptoms of PTSD are divided into the following four categories:

  1. Re-experiencing: These symptoms include flashbacks (reliving the trauma repeatedly), nightmares, and frightening thoughts
  2. Avoidance: This group includes avoiding areas, circumstances, etc., that remind the individual of the traumatic event and evading the thoughts/emotions that surround it
  3. Arousal/Reactivity: These include difficulties falling asleep, having trouble calming down, being easily frightened, and experiencing episodes of intense anger
  4. Cognition and Mood: This group includes difficulties remembering details about the trauma, a negative view of oneself, and a lack of interest in previously pleasurable hobbies

Treatment Options Available

Psychotherapy is the number one treatment used for any mental health disorder. A very successful branch of therapy used in trauma cases is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). This subbranch of CBT was developed specifically for people who have endured a traumatic event. It takes place in a positive and safe environment while promoting healing and growth.

Medication is another effective treatment method available. Prescriptions often include anti-anxiety medications that target anxiety which is a main side effect of trauma-related conditions. Additionally, antidepressants may be administered due to depression being a common side effect. In some cases, sleep aids can help when insomnia and nightmares persist.

Trauma Recovery Programs

Medication and psychotherapy can be found in any recovery program. The programs available for trauma-related conditions come in two forms: inpatient and outpatient. Both options include the same high-quality, effective treatment, and the need for one over the other is dependent on your own personal circumstances.


Inpatient programs are especially helpful in severe trauma cases. They feature 24/7 access to healthcare professionals in a comfortable home-like environment. This allows individuals to escape from reality and put all of their energy into healing and recovery.


These programs offer the same excellent treatment as the inpatient options while affording individuals full flexibility in their schedules. They are perfect for the working adult who is unable to put life on hold for treatment while still leading to a successful recovery.

Healthy Healing

This face-paced world brings a lot of stress, and life can get in the way sometimes. When someone is facing the challenges of trauma in addition to still functioning in daily life, it can be challenging to keep everything together. However, it doesn’t have to be a daily struggle. There is more to life than just surviving.

With treatment, you have a whole new world of possibilities at your fingertips. You can thrive in ways you maybe didn’t think you could. Trauma doesn’t define who you are. You are a strong and capable individual who will get through this. You deserve to thrive and live life to the fullest. Trauma recovery can be yours.

The challenges of trauma can be debilitating and take over your life. You don’t have to face them alone. At Alter Behavioral Health, we don’t just understand trauma and PTSD; we understand you. We care about you and your future, and it is our promise to you to walk with you every step of the way to recovery. You can overcome these obstacles and become a happier and stronger version of yourself. Trauma isn’t easy, but we make treatment easy and, more importantly, effective. Let’s walk this path together so you can enjoy the wonderful life that you deserve to live. Call us today at (866) 691-4386 for more information and to get started on a better, brighter future.  

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