The Impact of Childhood Trauma: A Holistic Health Concern

Every year, approximately 5 million children are exposed to traumatic events in the United States.[1] Because traumatic experiences in childhood can have life-long and life-altering effects, it is critical to understand their medical implications, especially when assessing trauma’s effects through a legal lens. In order to help you build stronger legal cases and assess clients’ situations more accurately, here’s a breakdown of different types of childhood trauma and their impact upon health, growth, and development:


Defining trauma

Trauma is a severe physical or emotional injury resulting from the experience of a traumatic event which threatens the life or physical integrity of a child or someone important to them.[2] It’s important to note that trauma can be the result not only of the most intensely horrific human experiences – such as war, rape, kidnapping, abuse, or natural disaster – but also from sudden injuries or grief.[3] Here are the main categories of trauma as laid out by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:[4]

  • Community violence (includes predatory violence and violence due to personal conflicts between people who are not family members)
  • Domestic violence (includes actual or threatened physical or sexual violence between adults in an intimate relationship)
  • Medical trauma (reactions that children or their families have to pain, injury, serious illness, or invasive medical procedures and treatment)
  • Natural disasters (damage from any natural catastrophe)
  • Neglect (when a parent or caregiver does not give a child the care needed for a child’s wellbeing)
  • Physical abuse (suffering physical pain or injury at the hands of another)
  • Refuge trauma (exposure to war, political violence, or torture as the result of living in a region affected by war or violence)
  • School violence (victimization, threats, injuries, and aggression faced at school)
  • Sexual abuse (sexual behaviors that take place between a child and an older person, can involve bodily contact, such as intercourse, or not, such as genital exposure)
  • Terrorism (use of violence or threat to inflict psychological damage, attacks can be made by isolated individuals or groups)
  • Traumatic grief (suffering grief associated with a sudden or anticipated death of someone important to the child)

Though trauma can be tied to a specific short-lived experience – referred to as acute trauma – it can also be the result of prolonged or multiple exposures to traumatic events – known as complex trauma.[5]


Effects of childhood trauma

A wide variety of reactions to and results of trauma exist, affecting children differently depending on the type of trauma experienced and the support that child has available to them. Survivors may show reactions immediately or may not display them until much later.[6] At its most basic level, these experiences can result in child traumatic stress, which occurs when a child is overwhelmed and unable to cope with trauma, resulting in psychological and biological responses.[7] Here are some of the ways in which this stress asserts itself:

  • Emotionally (including difficulty regulating emotions, feeling overwhelmed, or feeling numb, inability to express emotional distress)[8]
  • Physically (sleep disturbance, urological problems, bodily dysfunction, gastrointestinal, respiratory, dermatological, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal disorders, and hyperarousal)[9]
  • Cognitively (change in core life assumptions that help navigation of daily life, excessive or inappropriate guilt, idealization, hallucinations or delusions, intrusive thoughts or memories, cognitive errors, triggers, flashbacks, and dissociation)[10]
  • Behaviorally (reenactment, self-harm and self-destructive behavior, compulsive or impulsive behavior, self-medicating, aggression, and avoidance)[11]
  • Developmentally (increased susceptibility to stress and chronic conditions, inability to regulate emotions without outside help, inappropriate help-seeking, difficulty forming interpersonal relationships and solving problems, difficulties in identity formation, and difficulty controlling behavior).[12]


Whether you are seeking justice on behalf of someone who has suffered childhood trauma or aiming to better understand how arguing the effects of trauma influences a case, Integrity Legal Nursing can provide you with the expertise and insight to navigate difficult life situations that have medically impacted your clients. Contact us today to learn more about how we can be of service to your business and help you understand how your client’s past trauma might affect your case.

[1] Ruzek, J. I., Brymer, M. J., Jacobs, A. K., Layne, C. M., Vernberg, E. M., & Watson, P. J, ”Psychological first aid,” Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 2007, 29(1), 17-49.

[2] Klain, E. J., “Understanding Trauma and its Impact on Child Clients,” American Bar Association, n.d.,

[3] Eckes, A. and Radunovich, H. L., “Trauma and Adolescents,” University of Florida, 2007,

[4] “Types of Traumatic Stress,” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, n.d.,

[5] Ibid; Klain, “Understanding Trauma”

[6] Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, “Understanding the Impact of Trauma,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2014,

[7][7] Klain, “Understanding Trauma”

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Cook, A., Spinazzola, J., Ford, J., Lanktree, C., Blaustein, M., Sprague, C., et al. “Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents,”, Feb. 2, 2014,