There is no doubt that life can be challenging and at times very difficult. As a result, most people have some type of potentially traumatic experience during their life.
What determines whether the event becomes traumatic is complicated. Some people appear to be genetically more vulnerable to be affected by traumatic events. However, this alone is unlikely to result in someone having a traumatic reaction. For this to happen the person has most likely been unable to cope with the event effectively. This may be because they are an ‘avoidant coper’, feel ashamed of what happened, or used alcohol or drugs to cope, for example. Other people may be affected by the event because of things that went on around the time. For example, if the person is not believed or supported by key people, has negative experiences with the legal or insurance system, or continues to experience profound sense of being unsafe afterwards. Finally if the trauma is repeated the person is of greater risk of it becoming problematic.
There is also a difference between a traumatic reaction and problematic trauma. It is common for a person to experience sleeplessness, edginess, fearfulness, intrusive thoughts, and other symptoms for a month or so after a trauma. For most of these people the symptoms will become much less intense over this time and will eventually pass. However, for some people the symptoms persist and may even increase in intensity.
People who experience trauma symptoms for more than a month should seek an opinion from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. This person will be able to assess what is happening and make recommendations.
Treatment of trauma is quite varied. For a single traumatic incident, such as a car accident, CBT is very effective. However, if the person has long standing trauma, such as from childhood, or it is repeated trauma, then longer term treatments such as DBT or Schema Therapy may be more appropriate.