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What Is The Difference Between Acute Trauma And Chronic Trauma?

A common question that I am often asked by my patients is "What is the difference between acute trauma and chronic trauma?" Understanding the difference between the two allows you to have a better understanding of yourself, and what your needs are. Healing your trauma may not always be a linear process, but the more self-awareness you develop, the better equipped you will be.

Acute Trauma

Acute trauma is often a single incident that occurs in life, such as an accident, being a victim of a crime or even a natural disaster. You may have experienced one of these in the past, and find yourself still trying to make sense of it. These incidents can have a lasting negative impact on your psyche if left unprocessed, and impact the way you live your life. Some of my patients have been told that they should just get over it, especially if the acute trauma happened awhile ago. Unfortunately, resolving trauma is not so simple, and many times trying to just "get over it" can do more harm than good. I caution my patients against trying to put the trauma out of their mind by ignoring the incident. When a trauma goes ignored, and is not processed in a therapeutic manner, our brain responds by holding on to the memory, in hopes of addressing it at a later time. The more you ignore it, the more your body will show physical manifestations of it.

Chronic Trauma

Chronic trauma is trauma that is repetitive, and occurs over an extended period of time. Examples of chronic trauma can include such things as domestic violence, childhood abuse, and war. Chronic trauma can even be made up from several instances of acute traumas, happening one after the other. Often times my clients will feel as though there was no end in sight, and the only thing they could do was to continue to endure the trauma. Just like the acute trauma, leaving chronic trauma unresolved can have a long-term negative impact on the quality of your life. When you are ready to begin treatment, it's important that you work with a qualified trauma therapist. A seasoned clinician will assist you in developing a plan to address the many traumas you have survived.


Whether your trauma is acute or chronic, both can lead to anxiety and depression if left untreated. If you are having nightmares about the event, have increased alcohol consumption, no longer find pleasure in hobbies, or otherwise can't stop thinking about the trauma, it's time to ask for professional help. The two forms of trauma therapy that I use with my clients are:

If you or someone you know has experienced trauma, and are ready to begin treatment, please feel free to give me a call, and together we can discuss which treatment option is best for you.

Call to schedule an appointment at 615-982-5710

Ginger Poag, MSW, LCSW

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