Each individual will be affected differently by a traumatic event. Each individual will also processes the trauma differently. Traumatic experiences make us question our beliefs about safety and can destroy our assumptions of trust. A traumatic event involves a single experience. Enduring event(s) have the potential to completely overwhelm us rendering us unable to cope with or understand the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. These experiences are so far removed from what we expect that the events provoke reactions that feel strange to us – these reactions may be unusual and disturbing but they are ‘normal’ and expected responses to abnormal events.

This implies that the counsellor has to be non-directive, probing, encouraging the client to express what is important to him/her in the order and way he or she feels comfortable with. Questions like “Where will you like to start?” or “How are you?” will generally give more opportunity for an open responses than bluntly asking “What happened?”


Symptoms of trauma can be numerous and varied and differ from person to person – a traumatised individual may suffer from one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Despair
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Upsetting memories such as images, thoughts or flashbacks
  • Re-experience the trauma mentally and physically
  • Emotional detachment (known as dissociation)
  • Individuals may turn to alcohol and/or drugs
  • Stress/anxiety disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Loss of self-esteem


  • Death of family or friend or significant other
  • Abortion
  • Suicide attempts
  • Disease
  • Abuse
  • Accidents (e.g a car crash or explosion)
  • Violence
  • Threat of abuse or violence
  • Witnessing abuse or violence
  • Witnessing/being involved in an attack
  • Catastrophic events (war, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes etc)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. It is most commonly used to describe symptoms arising from emotionally traumatic experience(s). However, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Any overwhelming life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable. If symptoms persist for weeks or months, this is when professional help should be sought. Avoidance is often used to help cope with the trauma, but postponing professional help for a time could make the situation much worse. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect those who personally experience the catastrophe, those who witness it, and those who pick up the pieces afterwards, including emergency workers and law enforcement officers. It can even occur in friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.