The A to Z of Trauma



Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) encompass various forms of physical and emotional abuseneglect, and household dysfunction experienced in childhood.


Affect, in psychology, refers to the underlying experience of feeling, emotion or mood.

Affect labelling

An implicit emotional regulation strategy that can be simply described as "putting feelings into words". Specifically, it refers to the idea that explicitly labelling one's, typically negative, emotional state results in a reduction of the conscious experience, physiological response, and/or behaviour resulting from that emotional state.


Sense of agency refers to the feeling of control over actions and their consequences.

Ambivalent attachment

Children with an ambivalent attachment style (also referred to as “anxious-preoccupied,” “ambivalent-anxious,” or simply “anxious attachment”) tend to need attention. As the labels suggest, people with this attachment style are often anxious and uncertain, lacking in self-esteem.


The integrative centre for emotions, emotional behaviour, and motivation.

Attachment play

Attachment play with a child will, as attachment security increases, support your child's self-directed learning and curiosity. 

Attention needing behaviour

Attention needing behaviour (alternate term for Attention-seeking behaviour) can include saying or doing something with the goal of getting the attention of a person or a group of people. Examples of this behaviour include: fishing for compliments by pointing out achievements and seeking validation. Being controversial to provoke a reaction.


The matching of affect between infant and parent or caregiver to create emotional synchrony. 

Autonomic nervous system (ANS)

A component of the peripheral nervous system that regulates involuntary physiologic processes including heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal.

Avoidant attachment

Avoidant attachment is an attachment style that develops during early childhood. It tends to occur in children who do not experience sensitive responses to their needs or distress. Children with an avoidant attachment style may become very independent, both physically and emotionally.


Big empathy drawing

A drawing used to feedback to the child you have received, accepted and empathised with their feelings.

Blocked care

Blocked care can happen when parents/ carer/ teacher experience prolonged stress, which suppresses their capacity to sustain loving and empathic feelings towards their child.

Blocked trust

 Blocked trust is when children who have experienced inconsistent, neglectful or abusive relationships develop brains that are wired for survival and mistrust of others. They often find relationships with adults unsafe and resist closeness as they do not trust other peoples' motives or intentions.

Bottom up regulation

The Bottom-Up approach admits that body sensations or feelings are the first to occur. It believes that one needs to feel safe first before they learn how to regulate their responses.

Brain derived neurotropic factors (BDNF)

Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is a key molecule involved in plastic changes related to learning and memory.

Brain stem

The lower part of the brain that's connected to the spinal cord (part of the central nervous system in the spinal column). The brain stem is responsible for regulating most of the body's automatic functions that are essential for life.


Chain analysis

A technique designed to help a person understand the function of a particular behaviour.

Cognitive diffusion

Also known as deliteralisation, is a technique used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help people cope with uncomfortable or unhelpful thoughts and feelings. The purpose of cognitive diffusion is to enable you to be aware of the actual process of your thinking so you are better able to reflect objectively and problem solve effectively before taking any action.

Cognitive fusion

A process that involves healthily attaching a thought to an experience.


The presence of one or more additional conditions often co-occurring with a primary condition.

Contact hunger

The need for physical contact with other people, boosting our sense of identity by acknowledging we are both separate from and connected with others. It goes beyond visual recognition to a more visceral sense of togetherness.


The ability to hold thoughts, feelings, or emotions with another person during time of disclosure.

Coping strategies

Conscious or unconscious strategies used to reduce unpleasant emotions. Coping strategies can be cognitions or behaviours and can be individual or social.

Counter transference

Counter-transference occurs when the adult projects their own unresolved conflicts onto the child. This could be in response to something the child has triggered.

Covert behaviour

Behaviour that is not directly observable and can only be inferred by the observer or reported by the subject.

Creative media

Creative media is an umbrella term to include miniatures, puppets, dolls, art therapy, and psychodrama and role play etcetera. The aim of utilising creative activities in psychotherapy is to assist clients transforming their lived experiences into words, it is postulated that the use of creative activities may provide valuable data that can potentially further explain what is happening for the client and allow them to articulate their experiences and feelings.


Defensive mechanisms

Behaviours people use to separate themselves from unpleasant events, actions, or thoughts.


Appendages that are designed to receive communications from other cells. Dendrites convert these signals into small electric impulses and transmit them inward, in the direction of the cell body.


A defence mechanism proposed by Anna Freud which involves a refusal to accept reality, thus blocking external events from awareness.

Developmental delay

Developmental delay or 'global development delay' is used when a child takes longer to reach certain development milestones than other children their age.


Being deprived of power, authority, or influence creating feelings/ emotions which can make use make weak, ineffectual, or unimportant.

Disorganised attachment

A disorganized / fearful-avoidant attachment style develops when the child’s caregivers – the only source of safety – become a source of fear.


A psychological defence mechanism in which a person redirects a negative emotion from its original source to a less threatening recipient


A break in how your mind handles information. You may feel disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings.

Dissociative disorders

Mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity.

Distress adverse

The feeling of negative emotions/ feelings in response to an adverse experience.

Distress excited

The feeling of positive emotions/ feeling in response to an adverse experience.


An important chemical messenger in the brain that has many functions. It’s involved in reward, motivation, memory, attention and even regulating body movements

Dorsal Vagal nerve

A large, primitive nerve that is common to all animals, including fish. It goes down the spine and has a role in controlling our lungs, hearts (moderating heartbeats so they don't get too rapid) and stomach (where it actually aids digestion).

Dyadic/ Dyad

Dyadic describes the interaction between two things, and may refer to: Dyad (sociology), interaction between a pair of individuals.

Dyadic Developmental Practice (DDP)

A broad approach for parenting and caring for children using a therapeutic relationship to listen, validate and empathise.

Dynamic-Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM) 

DMM is a model describing the effect attachment relationships can have on human development and functioning, focused on the effects of relationships between children and parents and between reproductive couples.


Also known as emotional dysregulation, refers to a poor ability to manage emotional responses or to keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions.


Emotional Attachment Zones (EA-Z)

The EA Scales provide a multidimensional look at interactions. Two of the components described above—adult sensitivity and child responsiveness are ways of describing attachment, and more specifically, what we refer to as “emotional attachment.” Adult sensitivity is used to indicate a zone of emotional attachment for the adult and child responsiveness is used to indicate the child’s zone of emotional attachment. The four zones emotional attachment for the adult are: emotionally available,” “complicated,” “detached,” and “problematic/disturbed”

Emotional Availability framework

EA framework as an assessment system based in the “three pillars” of our work: attachment, emotional availability, and mindfulness. Using these core concepts, the program helps parents or caregivers to consider their own attachment history, learn about emotional availability through psychoeducation, practice mindfulness, and reflect upon a video of their own interaction.

Emotional available adult

Emotional available adult provides a child with a “secure base” within school, someone who can help to regulate their emotions and build a trusting relationship with. 

Emotional development

Emotional development involves learning what feelings and emotions are, understanding how and why they occur, recognising your own feelings and those of others, and developing effective ways for managing those feelings.

Emotional intelligence (EQ)

The ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

Emotional numbing

The mental and emotional process of shutting out feelings and may be experienced as deficits of emotional responses or reactivity.


The ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else's position and feeling what they must be feeling

Endocrine system

A messenger system comprising feedback loops of the hormones released by internal glands of an organism directly into the circulatory system, regulating distant target organs.


Chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain.

Engagement/ Flow

'Engagement', in terms of positive psychology, describes a specific way of being involved with a task. It is often described as being so invested in a task that time flies by. Another name for this is 'flow'. ... An experience causes positive emotions, such as curiosity or joy (e.g. they correctly solve a problem)

Enriched environment

An environment which provides elements which encourage learning and motivation.

Eustress: positive stress

A positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being

Extrinsic motivation

Reward-driven behaviour. It's a type of operant conditioning using rewards or other incentives — like praise, fame, or money

Explicit/ descriptive memory

One of the two main types of long-term human memory, the other of which is implicit memory. Explicit memory is the conscious, intentional recollection of factual information, previous experiences, and concepts.





A neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain, with low levels linked to anxiety and mood disorders


Acronym for the hormones encouraged within a trauma informed environment


Hyper arousal

Excessive arousal an abnormal state of increased responsiveness to stimuli that is marked by various physiological and psychological symptoms (such as increased levels of alertness and anxiety and elevated heart rate and respiration)

Hypo arousal

Hypo-arousal refers to an arousal state that lies of the low end of the mental state continuum. Behaviourally, hypo-arousal may be observed as under-responsiveness to stimuli and one's environment, for example, as lethargy, inattention, apathy, or boredom

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis)

A network responsible for the adaptation component of the stress response.


Incident hunger

A hunger for something unusual, exciting, challenging or different

Incoherent narrative

  1.  Verbally lacking in clarity or organisation/ disordered explanation of past.
  2.  Being unable to express oneself clearly/ inarticulate about the past.

Insecure attachment

People with an insecure attachment style generally have trouble making emotional connections with others. They can be aggressive or unpredictable towards their loved ones—a behaviour that is rooted in the lack of consistent love and affection they experienced in their childhood.


The process during which both the individual and collective unconscious are integrated into the personality. Integration is a positive psychological development that indicates psychological maturity and may help an individual move past negative habits.


A defence mechanism by which reasoning is used to block confrontation with an unconscious conflict and its associated emotional stress


The nonconsciousness mental process by which the characteristics, beliefs, feelings, or attitudes of other individuals or groups are assimilated into the self and adopted as one's own


The interchange of thoughts and feelings, both conscious and unconscious, between two persons or “subjects,” as facilitated by empathy.

Intrinsic motivation

An incentive to engage in a specific activity that derives from pleasure in the activity itself (e.g., a genuine interest in a subject studied) rather than because of any external benefits that might be obtained (e.g., money, course credits).

Implicit / non declarative memory

This kind of memory is both unconscious and unintentional. Implicit memory is also sometimes referred to as non-declarative memory since you are not able to consciously bring it into awareness


The examination of one's own conscious thoughts and feelings. In psychology, the process of introspection relies on the observation of one's mental state, while in a spiritual context it may refer to the examination of one's soul.






Landscapes of the mind

The exploration of positive aspects of life which has previously been unaware of.

Limbic system

The part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses, especially when it comes to behaviours we need for survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for our young, and fight or flight responses.

Limbic whisper

Talking thought emotion and empathy to the limbic system to help a person in crisis feel understood.


Marschak Interaction Method (MIM)

The MIM is a structured observation of the interaction between parent and child.

Memory reconsolidation

Memory consolidation is a category of processes that stabilize a memory after its initial attainment.

Mental state talk

The set of words used by children to attribute thoughts, feelings, emotions, and desires to people, when referring to either themselves or other people.


 The ability to understand the mental state – of oneself or others – that underlies overt behaviour


The general process in which persons serve as models for others, exhibiting the behaviour to be imitated by the others.



The perspective within psychology concerned with the "storied nature of human conduct", that is, how human beings deal with experience by observing stories and listening to the stories of others.


The part of the human brain's cerebral cortex where higher cognitive functioning is thought to originate from.

Neuro sequential model of education (NME)

A classroom-based approach to support school staff and children to learn more about brain development and the impact of developmental trauma on a child's ability to function in a classroom.


The term used to describe the process that the brain undergoes to immediately recognise danger and keep us safe.

Neuroendocrine system  

A messenger system comprising feedback loops of the hormones released by internal glands of an organism 


Relating to the anatomy, functions, and organic disorders of nerves and the nervous system.




Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects.

Overt behaviour

Something that is plainly apparent and openly displayed.


A hormone and a neurotransmitter that is associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,”



Abbreviation for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy

Pankstepps emotional systems

Seven emotional brain systems as listed: SEEKING, RAGE/Anger, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC/Sadness, and PLAY

Parasympathic nerve

The parasympathetic nervous system controls bodily functions when a person is at rest. Some of its activities include stimulating digestion, activating metabolism, and helping the body relax.


Also called “looping,” involves switching between resourcing and titration, allowing a person to move between a state of arousal triggered by a traumatic event and a state of calm. This helps the body to regain homeostasis—a state in which the body’s systems are regulated and working in balance.

Periaqueductal grey: (PAG)

 A brain region that plays a critical role in autonomic function, motivated behaviour and behavioural responses to threatening stimuli.

Polyvagal theory

Describes the autonomic nervous system has having three subdivisions that relate to social behaviour and connection. ... Polyvagal Theory is hierarchical, meaning that all three of these subdivisions follow a natural order depending on the neuroception of safety or danger in the situation.


Psychological presence is defined here as the experiential state that accompanies such personally engaging behaviours


Placing your own negative traits or unwanted emotions onto others, usually without reason

Protect, relate, regulate, reflect

Framework for trauma informed schools.


To provide the patient and families knowledge about various facets of the illness and its treatment so that they can work together with mental health professionals for a better overall outcome.

Psychological drives

An urgent basic need pressing for satisfaction, usually rooted in some physiological tension, deficiency, or imbalance.




Re traumatisation

Occurs when a person re-experiences a previously traumatic event, either consciously or unconsciously.

Reactive attachment disorder

A rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn't establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers.

Recognition hunger

A need for social recognition

Regret not responsibility

Concept used to help the reprocessing of narrative and memories.

Relationship policy

A policy establishes rules for the conduct of personal relationships between all people within the trust.


A key concept of psychoanalysis, where it is understood as a defence mechanism that "ensures that what is unacceptable to the conscious mind, and would if recalled arouse anxiety, is prevented from entering into it.


Psychological resonance provides a counselling model for client and counsellor that promotes the study of their shared experiences as co-observers and co-participants.

Restorative environments

An environment which can provide elements to help clam a mental state.

Restorative practices

Restorative practices promotes inclusiveness, relationship-building and problem-solving, through such restorative methods as circles for teaching and conflict resolution to conferences that bring victims, offenders and their supporters together to address wrongdoing


Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions.

Rupture and repair

The breaking and restoring of connection with one another. Since humans are wired for connection, and connection is what researchers say brings most happiness, rupture and repair is a critical concept to learn about for wellbeing.


Safe touch

The use of touch with students for calming and soothing purposes.

Sand tray

A combination of play therapy and art therapy. The therapist provides the client with a tray or box filled with sand as well as a variety of miniature toys to create a play world. Toys may include anything from farm animals and dinosaurs to people and cars

Secure attachment

Classified by children who show some distress when their caregiver leaves but are able to compose themselves quickly when the caregiver returns.

Seeking system

The system responsible for our motivated actions in relation to survival and our desires. It is one of the seven major emotional tendencies of the brain. The seeking system is integral to our motivation, urge to explore and desire to understand.


Acts against its own plan or purpose — it's unsuccessful or useless.

Sensory overload

When one or more of the body's senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment.


Hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.


An unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self; withdrawal motivations; and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness.

Social engagement

Mediates the relationship between participation in social activities and psychological distress among older adults.

Social joy

Also know as social play, playful and engaging interactions and environments which facilitate the production of positive brain hormones.


Relating to, or affecting the body.


Also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking, the failure in a person's thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.

Stimulus hunger

The need for sensory input from others and the need of the stimulation of being with others. 


The part of the mind that is not currently of focal awareness.


Supervision is a formal arrangement for therapists to discuss their work regularly with someone who is experienced in both therapy and supervision.


A conscious effort to put disturbing thoughts and experiences out of mind, or to control and inhibit the expression of unacceptable impulses and feelings.

Survival behaviour

A range of behaviours, both intrinsic and extrinsic, needed to exhibit in order to survive in an abusive, neglecting or ignoring environment.

Sympathic nerve

Division of the nervous system that functions to produce localized adjustments (such as sweating as a response to an increase in temperature) and reflex adjustments of the cardiovascular system.



The end of a chromosome damaged by psychological trauma.

Theory of mind

The ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, and knowledge — to ourselves and others


Attachment based approach to supporting parent/ child interactions.


A cognitive intervention technique prescribed by psychotherapists with the goal of interrupting, removing, and replacing problematic recurring thoughts

Time structure hunger

Using time in an effective and positive way

Top down processing

Information processing guided by higher-level mental processes, as when we construct perceptions drawing on our experience and expectations.

Toxic stress

Exposure to a traumatic situation—like violence, abuse, neglect, extended hospitalization or a divorce, for example—without adequate parental or caregiver support





A situation where the feelings, desires, and expectations of one person are redirected and applied to another person                                                                          

Trauma inducing

An incident, situation or interaction that causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm.

Trauma reducing

An incident, situation or interaction that reduces physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm.


A stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma.Accordion content




Vagal break

The influence of the social engagement system on the heart. If the ventral pathways are active, it will keep the heartbeat at a calmer pace.

Vagal tone

Activity of the vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve and a fundamental component of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

Ventral vagal nerve

Front side of the vagus nerve which responds to cues of safety in the environment and interactions. It supports feelings of physical safety and being safely emotionally connected to others in our social environment.


Window of tolerance

A term used to describe the zone of arousal in which a person is able to function most effectively


Framework for undertaking curious and empathy conversations, i.e. I wonder, I imaging, I, noticed, I empathise.






Zone of proximal development

The distance between what a person can do without help, and what they can do with support from someone with more knowledge or expertise.