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Definitions of Trauma and Resilience

What Is Traumatic Stress? Childhood exposure to traumatic events is a major public health problem in the United States. Research has shown that exposure to traumatic events early in life can have many negative effects throughout childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood. Children who suffer from child traumatic stress are those who have been exposed to one or more traumas over the course of their lives and develop reactions that persist and affect their daily lives after the traumatic events have ended.1 Traumatic events can include witnessing or experiencing physical or sexual abuse, violence in families and communities, loss of a loved one, refugee and war experiences, living with a family member whose caregiving ability is impaired, and having a life-threatening injury or illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 60 percent of American adults say that they endured abuse or other difficult family circumstances during childhood.2

What Is Historical Trauma? Sometimes referred to as “multi-generational trauma,” historical trauma is the collective emotional and psychological injury both over the life span and across generations, resulting from a cataclysmic history that occurs as a result of genocide and other significant abuses.3 Historical trauma has been experienced by several cultural and ethnic communities. For instance, some Native American and Alaska Native communities talk about the historical trauma they have experienced in the United States based on shared experiences like displacement, forced assimilation, language and culture suppression, and forced attendance at boarding schools. Powerlessness and hopelessness are associated with historical trauma that likely contributes to high rates of alcoholism, substance abuse, suicide, and other health issues. Increasingly, prevention programs are using culture-based strategies to address the effects of historical trauma in individuals, families, and communities.

What Is Resilience? Resilience is the ability to adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. While many things contribute to resilience, studies show that caring and supportive relationships can help enhance resilience. Factors associated with resilience include, but are not limited to:

  • The ability to make and implement realistic plans;
  • A positive and confident outlook; and
  • The ability to communicate and solve problems.4

What is Mental Health Treatment?  Mental Health Treatment is the provision of specific intervention techniques by a professional for conditions identified in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM).  These interventions should have proven effectiveness, the ability to produce measureable changes in behaviors and symptoms, and should be person- and family- centered, and culturally and linguistically appropriate.


  1. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved from http://www.nctsn.org/resources/audiences/parents-caregivers/what-is-cts Exit Disclaimer
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2010). Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, 59, 1609–1613.
  3. Native American Center for Excellence. Retrieved from http://nace.samhsa.gov/HistoricalTrauma.aspx, and Yellow Horse Brave Heart, M. Retrieved from http://www.class.uidaho.edu/engl484jj/Historical_Trauma.htm Exit Disclaimer and http://historicaltrauma.com/ Exit Disclaimer
  4. American Psychological Association. Adapted from “The Road to Resilience.” Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx Exit Disclaimer

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs to talk, please call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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