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  • Writer's pictureHollis Lyman

Trauma and Brain Injuries

Updated: Mar 6


A purple drawn monster looming over a person on all fours representing trauma or depression

Psychological trauma is a type of emotional injury that occurs when you experience or witnesses a traumatic event, such as neglect, abuse, or violence. Psychological trauma can obviously have a significant impact on your mental health, leading to symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While trauma is often associated with psychological symptoms, it can also be related to brain injuries. Research has shown that individuals who have experienced trauma, like adverse childhood experiences, are at an increased risk of sustaining a brain injury. This is particularly true in cases where the trauma is accompanied by physical

violence or abuse.


A drawn picture of a woman with bruises and many hands attempting to cover her mouth

This means people at high risk for experiencing violence are at high risk for receiving a brain injury. People without homes, domestic violence survivors, military, LGBTQ+, people in poverty, and people involved in the criminal legal system. These same folks are at risk for experiencing a traumatic event in addition to personal violence.


One possible explanation for this relationship is that trauma can lead to changes in brain function and structure. For example, studies have found that individuals with PTSD have changes in the structure and function of the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in emotional regulation and fear response. These changes can affect your ability to cope with stress, respond to threats, preferences to engage in risk, or ability to identify danger to self, and may increase the risk of experiencing a brain injury.


Another is that personal violence is likely to result in a brain injury. People in a domestic violence situation, a violent environment, or children with abusive caretakers are at risk for being hit or kicked in the head or choked, which all can result in brain injuries. A brain injury then causes memory difficulties, can cause individuals to struggle with self-regulation, anger, depression, anxiety, or may become financially reliant on their abuser because they cannot work after their injury. If this sounds like you or someone you know, call the domestic violence hotline (800.799.SAFE (7233)) for tips on safety and services that are designed to support you.


It is important for anyone experiencing trauma to seek appropriate treatment, such as therapy, medication, diet changes, and social support, to manage their symptoms and reduce their risk of sustaining a brain injury. In some cases, treatment may involve addressing underlying issues, to help you better manage emotions, negative thoughts, and behaviors. Therapists can work with you using techniques like EMDR. Look for someone specializing in trauma informed therapies and who can account for physical brain changes post-brain injury.


Look for a therapist who:

  • Has prior experience working with brain injury survivors

  • Uses trauma informed techniques (and can tell you what they are)

  • Is a CBIS (certified brain injury specialist)

  • Someone trained in EMDR

  • Can adapt their practice to your brain injury symptoms (i.e. virtual therapy, phone therapy, reduce auditory distraction, send appointment reminders, etc)

  • And most importantly, someone you are excited to show up for, who both sees you and challenges you.


Other therapists who specialize in brain injury: 1. Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado



Support for survivors of and thrivers after sexual assault can be found at Helping Survivors


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