Decoding Trauma

February 3, 2021
There are many different types of trauma and clinical diagnoses surrounding symptoms of trauma. Often terms such as trauma, PTSR, PTSD, Complex PTSD, and Developmental Trauma are used interchangeably, muddying the waters and creating barriers to treatment. Clarifying language surrounding trauma not only helps victims on the road to recovery, it allows for concise, purposeful treatment and support on the part of health care practitioners and caregivers.

First, a note on how medical professionals go about diagnosing trauma. In Canada, mental health disorders, including trauma, are diagnosed through the Diagnostics Systems Manual-5 (DSM-5). The DSM-5 is a manual used globally as the authoritative guide to mental health disorders. It includes everything from Schizophrenia to trauma to caffeine withdrawal. It’s pertinent to know because if it’s not in the DSM-5, it’s generally not recognized by western health care providers and insurance companies. Furthermore, if it can’t be treated with pharmaceuticals, it’s generally not in the DSM-5.

Trauma is used as an umbrella term for several different conditions. PTSR, PTSD, Complex Trauma, and Developmental Trauma all fall under this category, but differ significantly in origin, occurrence, severity, and treatment. Post-Traumatic Stress Response (PTSR) is a relatively new term used to describe a
common, adaptive response to a single traumatic event. Symptoms will likely subside on their own within a year and minimal intervention is required. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characteristically also a single event, or series of events over a short period of time. Symptoms and effect on the nervous
system are more severe than PTSR, and can last for years if not treated with therapy.

Complex PTSD and Developmental Trauma are both multiple or chronic events occurring over a long period of time, often years. Complex PTSD can occur at any time in a person’s life, and is often associated with domestic abuse victims, chronic sexual assault victims, veterans, and first responders. Complex PTSD is recognized by the DSM-5, and comprehensive intervention involving traditional Western and alternative modalities is required. Developmental Trauma is characterized by several key markers not found in other trauma diagnoses. Events are chronic, early-onset (inter-uterine, infancy, or childhood), committed by a caregiver or person in a position of authority or trust, and is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. At this time, Developmental Trauma is not recognized by the DSM-5.

Since the trauma occurred in a relationship, effective healing must include therapy and rebuilding safety in relationships and community, albeit by a counsellor, caregiver, or in safe group work.

Not all wounds are visible. Regardless of the diagnosis, trauma affects all aspects of your well-being. Symptoms are complex and long-lasting, but there is hope and recovery is more than possible. I was personally clinically diagnosed with Complex PTSD in 2011. Further research and perseverance revealed a Developmental Trauma diagnosis as well. At the time, I was suicidal, regularly hospitalized, struggling with life-threatening symptoms, and had resigned myself to an early grave. Today, through therapy and continuing yoga practice and self-care, I live an enriched and fulfilling life. Being able to put words and
clarity to my trauma was the first step towards treatment and recovery, and it’s my personal hope in writing this others can find clarity and support as well.