The word "trauma" comes from the Greek word for wound. It is used by the medical profession to refer to physical wounds, but is also used in psychology and the caring professions to refer to a psychological wound - that is, the harm done to a person's psychological well-being by one or more events that cause major levels of distress.
Such events include:
Although a traumatic experience does not necessarily involve physical harm to the body, physical symptoms can result - for example, headaches, stomach aches and/or palpitations. However, the psychological effects can be far more significant.
These can be divided into three types:
All three types of psychological reaction are, in effect, reactions to stress - hence the term "post-traumatic stress". Where such stress persists over time and becomes a long-term problem, the term "post-traumatic stress disorder" (or PTSD) may be used.
Note that some degree of post-traumatic stress is a perfectly normal reaction and does not necessarily mean that the individual concerned is in need of professional help. However, professionals are likely to have an important role to play if the problems persist over time.