In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Trauma Psychology

  • Introduction
  • General Resources
  • Types and Prevalence of Traumatic Events
  • PTSD and Other Psychological and Physical Effects of Trauma
  • Resilience and Posttraumatic Growth
  • Factors Associated with Posttrauma Adjustment
  • Interventions to Prevent or Treat Posttrauma Symptoms
  • Diversity in Trauma Exposure and Effects

Psychology Trauma Psychology
Patricia A. Frazier, Emily Mischel Abramowski, Viann Nguyen-Feng, Addie Merians, McKenzie Kaubrys
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0241


Trauma research often uses the definition of trauma in the diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which in general terms involves experiencing a life-threatening event. Using this definition, the majority of individuals have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, with some demographic groups being at greater risk (e.g., sexual minorities). Nonetheless, many other kinds of events can be distressing besides those that meet the definition of trauma in the criteria for PTSD, including adverse childhood experiences, racial microaggressions, morally injurious events, and historical trauma. Much research on the effects of trauma also focuses on PTSD. This research shows that although most individuals experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, few (5 percent–10 percent) trauma-exposed individuals develop PTSD. Thus, research also has examined resilient outcomes following trauma exposure, defined as stable functioning following adversity. In the developmental literature, resilience refers to adequate long-term adaptation across life domains despite chronic childhood adversity whereas, in the adult trauma literature, resilience has been defined as having minimal symptoms posttrauma. Research in both child and adult samples suggests that resilience is the modal response to trauma and adversity. However, the conclusion that resilience is the modal response to adult trauma has recently come under criticism on methodological grounds. Finally, posttraumatic growth (PTG) refers to reports of better functioning in various life domains posttrauma. Although such reports are common, this area of research also has been criticized on methodological grounds based on the finding that self-reported growth is tenuously related to actual pre- to posttrauma change. Because of the diversity of responses to trauma exposure, an important question concerns which factors predict better or poorer adjustment in response to traumatic events. These risk and protective factors include pretrauma, trauma-related, and posttraumatic characteristics. For example, female gender is a risk factor for PTSD partly because women are at greater risk of sexual violence, which is the trauma type that carries the highest PTSD risk. With regard to posttrauma factors, lack of social support is a particularly important risk factor. Progress has been made in terms of developing effective treatments for preventing and treating PTSD. In the immediate posttrauma phase, psychological debriefing (without emotional processing) is recommended. In the acute phase, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is recommended for the prevention of PTSD. CBT and exposure therapies are recommended for treating PTSD. Less is known about the promotion of resilience or PTG.

General Resources

There are numerous resources, textbooks, organizations, and journals that provide general information on various aspects of trauma psychology. For general readers, Herman 2015 (originally published in 1992) reviews the effects of trauma and the healing process and is one of the most cited books in trauma psychology. Van der Kolk 2014 is another good resource on the impact of trauma and trauma treatments for general readers, trauma survivors, and practitioners. Textbooks include a comprehensive two-volume handbook, Gold 2017, which is geared toward advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and mental health professionals. Reyes, et al. 2008 is a comprehensive resource with brief entries on a range of trauma-related topics. Ruglass and Kendall-Tackett 2015 is one of the only introductory textbooks intended for undergraduate students. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) is an interdisciplinary professional organization that promotes advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress. ISTSS publishes the Journal of Traumatic Stress, one of the primary general trauma psychology journals, and maintains an extensive website with information for professionals and the public. The Trauma Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 56 publishes Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, a general trauma psychology journal. They also maintain a useful website with numerous resources including course syllabi and a list of trauma-focused doctoral and internship training programs. There are also several other journals that focus on specific types of trauma such as Child Abuse and Neglect, the official journal of the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

  • American Psychological Association (APA) Division 56.

    Division 56 is the division of the APA that focuses on trauma psychology and provides a forum for research and education on psychological trauma. They maintain an extensive website with many resources. Particularly notable are sample syllabi for trauma-related courses and a list of trauma-focused doctoral and internship training programs.

  • Child Abuse and Neglect.

    The official publication of the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. A peer-reviewed international and interdisciplinary journal for researchers, scholars, policymakers, citizens, advocates, and practitioners. The journal publishes empirical research, theoretical and methodological reports, and invited reviews on a range of topics including child welfare, mental and physical health, and social services systems.

  • Gold, S. N. ed. 2017. APA handbooks in psychology: APA handbook of trauma psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    An advanced overview of trauma psychology topics contributed by experts in the field and aimed at advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and mental health professionals. Volume 1 (thirty chapters) covers foundational knowledge (e.g., types and effects of trauma, conceptual frameworks) and Volume 2 (twenty-seven chapters) covers trauma practice (e.g., assessment, treatment approaches).

  • Herman, J. 2015. Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.

    One of the most highly cited works in the field of trauma psychology. It was originally published in 1992 and revised in 2015. Herman covers the effects of a wide range of traumas (e.g., child abuse, war) and the healing process. It is notable for its inclusion of many quotes from trauma survivors.

  • International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

    The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies is an interdisciplinary professional organization that promotes advancement and exchange of knowledge about traumatic stress. They maintain an extensive website with resources for both professionals and the public, including information on various assessment instruments and a searchable directory of clinicians.

  • Journal of Traumatic Stress.

    The Journal of Traumatic Stress is the official publication of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. The journal publishes peer-reviewed articles on biopsychosocial aspects of trauma including theory, research, treatment, prevention, and legal/policy issues. The journal has virtual special issues that collect articles from different issues on specific topics, such as sexual harassment and sexual assault and refugee children and their families.

  • Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.

    The journal of Division 56 (Trauma Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. Publishes peer-reviewed research on trauma, including research on psychological treatments, trauma education, assessment/diagnosis, pathophysiology, health services, epidemiological and risk-factor studies, neuroimaging, and cultural competence. The journal publishes special issues including a recent (2017) issue on the military and mass trauma.

  • Reyes, G., J. Elhai, and J. Ford, eds. 2008. The encyclopedia of psychological trauma. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

    This encyclopedia contains brief entries on a wide range of topics related to psychological trauma including the nature of trauma, the after-effects of trauma, the prevention and treatment of PTSD, professional and governmental organizations and training related to trauma, and cultural considerations. The encyclopedia was developed for a broad readership, including the general public, policymakers, students, researchers, clinicians, educators, and advocates. Some sections may be dated.

  • Ruglass, L., and K. Kendall-Tackett. 2015. Psychology of trauma 101. New York: Springer.

    Psychology of Trauma 101 is a short introductory textbook intended for undergraduate students that covers a range of basic topics within trauma psychology, including the nature and effects of trauma and trauma treatments. It is easy to read and contains first-person accounts of trauma survivors. It also addresses issues related to gender, race/ethnicity, and culture.

  • van der Kolk, B. A. 2014. The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin.

    Van der Kolk is medical director of the Trauma Center in Massachusetts and a psychiatry professor at Boston University School of Medicine. Draws on research and van der Kolk’s experiences as a clinician in detailing the ways in which trauma impacts the brain and the body. Also examines the ways in which various treatments address these complex systems. Useful for practitioners and individuals who have been affected by trauma.

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