Reviewed by Alison Heru, MD

Psychological trauma includes observing or experiencing a life-threatening event and being violated by people on whom you depend for your well-being. After a traumatic event some people become anxiousdepressed and others have difficulty managing their daily responsibilities.

While most people are distressed for a period of time (weeks or months), they eventually resume their normal responsibilities and adapt. Someone who continues to be significantly affected by a traumatic event months or years later may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Often, after a traumatic event people begin to avoid triggers that remind them of the event in attempting to cope with the trauma. This may be adaptive initially, yet may lead to a pattern of symptoms that interferes with living life. Other types of symptoms include re-experiencing the trauma in the form of nightmares or flashbacks (a kind of mental replay of the trauma), numbing of emotions and being on high alert for danger. This might result in difficulty with sleep or concentration.

Affect on Future Medical Management

A history of psychological trauma can affect a patient's experience in a medical setting. If a patient generally believes he/she is helpless to impact his/her life circumstances, this may interfere with following through with medical treatment recommendations. Present experiences such as medical procedures, evaluations, and appointments with doctors can re-trigger early experiences of distress. Since with trauma, "the past is the present," one can react in the present medical situation as if it is what was happening in the past.


A number of different kinds of counseling as well as medications can be effective in treating PTSD. Your doctor may recommend that you be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional if he or she suspects that trauma history may be interfering with your medical management. You may be referred to a psychiatrist, psychologist or a clinical social worker who can recommend various treatment options for you or your family member.

For more information about trauma, visit David Baldwin's Trauma Information.

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