What is Trauma?

A trauma event, which may be directly experienced or simply witnessed, triggers a stress response “of intense fear, horror, and helplessness, that overwhelms an individual’s capacity to cope” (Woodbridge et al., 2015).1  Compassion fatigue” refers particularly to the PTSD symptoms that one experiences vicariously as a “secondary target to trauma” (TEDx, 2016).2

Results of survey by Drs. Robert Anda of the federal Centers for Disease Control, Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente and Laura Porter of the Family Policy Council in Washington state. Examines the breakdown of types Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) experienced by 17,000 primarily middle-class, college educated people. 87% of the people surveyed had undergone at least two ACEs. (1)

Examples of common trauma events: (Woodbridge et al., 2105).1

-Death of a loved one

-Threat or experience of physical assault

-Separation from a caregiver

-Serious illness or injury

-Serious accident

-Witnessing a natural disaster

See Trauma Definitions from Twitter for some perspectives from educators and teachers on the definition of trauma.

How prevalent is it?

A trauma event may occur once, or it may be complex trauma, recurring or continuing over a long period of time (Terassi & Crain de Galarce, 2017).3  Research has found that annually 5,000,000 children in the United States are exposed to trauma event(s) and that 70-80% of adolescents have experienced at least one traumatic event. In fact, exposure to trauma is most prevalent during adolescence. (Woodbridge et al., 2015).1

  1. Woodbridge, M.W., Sumi, W.C., Thornton, S.P., Fabrikant, N., Rouspil, K.M., Langley, A.K., & Kataoka, S.H. (2015). Screening for trauma in early adolescence: Findings from a diverse school district. School Mental Health 8, 89-105.
  2.  TEDx. (2016, April 15). Drowning in empathy: The cost of vicarious trauma. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsaorjIo1Yc
  3.  Terassi, S. & Crain de Galarce, P. (2017, March 1). Trauma and learning in America’s classrooms. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(6), 35-41.


  1. Panel traces path from childhood trauma to youth violence [graphic]. (2103, April 2). Retrieved April 27, 2017 from http://www.lisc-chicago.org/news/2349

Header image: Lanacone, E. (2015). The impact of trauma & chronic stress on education. Hello, Jiyeon! (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2017 from https://hello-jiyeon.com/urban-trauma/

Background image: Vector drawing of the barbed wire. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2017 from https://www.pinterest.com/explore/barbed-wire/