Understanding Trauma and Trauma-Related Disorders

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

When it comes to recognizing and addressing trauma and trauma-related disorders, it’s important to separate fact from fiction.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, is often associated exclusively with the horrors of war, but it’s a myth that only veterans of combat develop the condition. In reality, PTSD can impact anyone who has witnessed or experienced traumatic, life-threatening, or life-changing events.

Misconceptions also surround dissociative identity disorder (DID), once known as multiple personality disorder. While misleading media portrayals might suggest that most people with DID jump between personas and personalities, in reality, only a very small portion of those with the disorder exhibit this behavior.

So how can we learn to recognize the symptoms of psychological trauma? What are the best options for effective treatment? And how can we best understand if we have experienced a traumatic event?

Audience Questions

Matthew A. Robinson, PhD, provides an overview of PTSD, DID, and other trauma-related disorders, debunks common myths about these conditions, and covers the evidence-based treatment methods to ensure that people are able to manage their symptoms and live rewarding lives.

  • What are the differences between trauma, traumatic events, and trauma-related disorders?
  • When does the experience of trauma become a diagnosable disorder?
  • Can you explain why the use of precise language surrounding trauma-related disorders is so important?
  • What is the definition of a potentially traumatic event (PTE)?
  • How common are PTEs and will most people experience one at some point in their lives?
  • Do most people recognize if they are experiencing a PTE or have experienced one in the past?
  • Can you describe the spectrum of trauma-related disorders?
  • Does dissociative identity disorder (DID) fall in the spectrum of trauma-related disorders?
  • What are some of the common misconceptions about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
  • What is the difference between post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder?
  • What are some symptoms of PTSD?
  • Is there sometimes a delay in the onset of PTSD symptoms?
  • Can a person suffer trauma from continued childhood emotional abuse, or must the abuse be physical to be considered trauma?
  • Are workers in some occupations more at risk than others when it comes to PTSD?
  • Is it common for someone with PTSD to struggle with depression, as well?
  • How is PTSD treated and is medication commonly used in treatment?
  • What are some of the considerations when deciding whether someone’s PTSD treatment should be inpatient or outpatient?
  • What is complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and how is it different from PTSD?
  • Are there visible differences in the symptoms of PTSD and C-PTSD?
  • What are the differences between borderline personality disorder (BPD) and C-PTSD?
  • What is dissociative identity disorder (DID)?
  • Is DID the same as multiple personality disorder and, if so, why the change in the terminology?
  • Why do some people with C-PTSD have difficulty with their identity?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of DID?
  • How is DID treated?
  • How can a family member support a loved one with PTSD or DID?
  • How can someone help a loved one with developmental disabilities who experienced childhood trauma?
  • When is it appropriate for a clinician to refer a patient to a specialist and what trauma-related disorder training is available?
  • Is there any research linking childhood trauma with other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder and depression?
  • What role does exercise play in C-PTSD recovery?
  • Can you describe a typical PTSD treatment protocol and process?
  • What can someone expect during post-treatment recovery?
  • Is it common for children of alcoholics to develop C-PSTD?
  • What resources do you recommend for learning more about prolonged grief disorder?
  • Is personality impacted by PTSD and, if so, how?
  • What is the state of PTSD and DID research?
  • Is there a trendline when it comes to the number of people seeking treatment for trauma-related disorders?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


You may find this additional information useful:

About Dr. Robinson

Matthew A. Robinson, PhD, is co-director of McLean’s Outpatient Trauma Clinic and provides individual, group, and couples treatment for trauma and dissociative disorders. He is also an instructor in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

As a member of the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Research Program, Dr. Robinson is an investigator on grant-funded, cutting-edge research. His collaborations focus on understanding the biological underpinnings of trauma and dissociative disorders and how biological markers might help predict treatment outcomes.

Learn more about Dr. Robinson.

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Originally aired on June 13, 2023