In my trauma counselling practice in Victoria B.C., I often find myself explaining trauma to clients. While trauma is a broad and complex field of study, current conceptual understandings discern three types: incident, relational, and complex trauma. I have outlined them below. My understandings are formed by many great minds, including Dr. Sharon Stanley and Dr. Peter Levine, two authorities in the trauma field, who I have studied with.

Incident Trauma occurs when there is an event or experience that has a beginning and an end. You may know it as shock trauma as there is a huge amount of energy that impacts the person. It, like all trauma, creates overwhelm in the autonomic nervous system and there is a perception of life threat. Common traumatic incidents that I see in my counselling practice include: car accidents, falls, assaults, loss, and all types of violence.

Relational Trauma occurs in the context of relationship and often includes experiences of shame or betrayal. Rather than being formed by specific, identifiable incidents, relational breaches/trauma occurs across a person’s lifespan, and often, but not always, begins in childhood. This type of trauma often occurs in families where addiction and mental health issues are present, or through invalidating/unhealthy relationships in child or adulthood. In my work, I often see people who have relational trauma stemming from affairs, invalidating and/or abusive relationships, or neglect in childhood.

Complex Trauma occurs when there is repeated and cumulative incident and/or relational trauma – creating a layering of trauma which impacts and informs all areas of a person’s life. In my practice, I often see people with complex trauma stemming from sexual abuse, physical abuse, childhood neglect and abuse, growing up in addicted families, and bullying, particularly when there have been inadequate responses (in childhood by school system, parents, etc. or in adulthood by the workplace and/or loved ones).

Whatever type of trauma you might be experiencing, I invite you to hold hope for your recovery, or the recovery of your loved one. I hold close the words of Dr. Peter Levine that trauma is not a life sentence.