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Outside academic spaces and therapy offices, trauma has been a growing topic on social media. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, and now TikTok all have trauma content. In these online spaces, formal content (e.g., scientific articles, infographics, video conferences) is mingled with informal content on trauma (e.g., quotes from bestseller books on trauma, memes, personal stories). Whether formal or informal, online content on trauma seemingly brings together the perspectives of practitioners, researchers, coaches, and trauma survivors. The topic seems to be getting a lot of visibility. For instance, #trauma and #ptsd have millions of publications on Instagram. YouTube channels on trauma or subtopics of trauma (e.g., Complex Trauma Recovery, Attachment Trauma, Betrayal Trauma) have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of views. Some specialized forums on Reddit (i.e., subreddits) are dedicated to PTSD or C-PTSD and are organized with a set of rules and posting guidelines; they offer peer-to-peer support and have hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

As of March 2022, #Trauma videos have over 7.5 billion views on TikTok; #TraumaTok, a niche community on TikTok, has over 700 million views. As students in clinical training and future mental health professionals, the fact that there are so many videos and that they have such high engagement have made us wonder: What is #TraumaTok? What are the benefits and potential risks for these communities? What are these online spaces revealing about people's needs?

Launched in 2017, TikTok is a social media/entertainment platform where people create and share short videos (Ohlheiser, 2021). The app fosters an environment where users can form communities centered around shared interests (e.g., books, technology, fitness, food) or shared experiences (e.g., living with a disability, coming out). The strength (and singularity) of the platform lies in the algorithm, which can quickly determine what kind of content (e.g., dancing, humor, information) a person is most likely to engage with (e.g., by watching the video until the end). The result is a highly personalized feed, where viral videos are intertwined with videos with no views (Ohlheiser, 2021). Some aspects render TikTok different from other social media platforms: the algorithm, the anonymity compared to other social networks (e.g., Facebook, Instagram), high engagement rates, and its mainly being dominated by Gen Z (i.e., the generation born between the late 1990s and early 2010s; Gallagher, 2021; Ohlheiser, 2021).

Thus, #TraumaTok hosts thousands of short videos on trauma, with varying lengths (e.g., 60 seconds to three minutes) and varying formats (e.g., use of colorful text and music). Content – and content creators – on #TraumaTok can be a person sharing their own experiences (e.g., storytime) or a licensed therapist explaining a concept (e.g., fight-or-flight response).

#TraumaTok offers several benefits, such as making knowledge more accessible, spreading awareness, and building community. For instance, some videos provide information on PTSD symptoms, explain therapy benefits, and discuss developmental trauma. Others involve sharing the effects of trauma on personal lives, sharing coping skills, and making book recommendations.

Gallagher (2021) analyzed TikTok mental health communities, including #TraumaTok, and categorized content videos into informational, anecdotal, humor, and accomplishment-sharing. The author then examined the comments under the videos and observed mostly positive reactions (e.g., praise, strategy sharing, agreement with the creator); thus concluded: "The proliferation of the mental illness community on TikTok allows users to feel empowered by sharing their stories and start dialogues to raise awareness and celebrate one another's victories" (Gallagher, 2021, p.24).

Yet, risks and potential harm on #TraumaTok need to be acknowledged. Since anyone can create content on the platform, videos can spread misinformation, oversimplify a topic, and encourage self-diagnosis. For example, some videos claim to identify trauma responses or C-PTSD by asking users to "put a finger down" while listing various behaviors or experiences (Palus, 2021). Content creators may claim expertise, provide inaccurate advice, or use the platform for personal gain (Palus, 2021).

TikTok videos on trauma have received negative media coverage (Palus, 2021). The criticism centers around the overuse of the word "trauma," claiming that the term has become trendy and should be left as a clinical diagnosis description (Bennett, 2022; Cummins, 2021; Pandell, 2022). Our perspective on #TraumaTok is biased; our ongoing training as researchers and clinicians allows us to examine videos the algorithm shows us critically. We have found it to be a way to disseminate knowledge, and we have learned a lot from therapists' videos. We have gained a more nuanced understanding of the lived experiences of people who suffer from trauma. We were exposed to minoritized realities (e.g., people with comorbidities, people of color) and garnered valuable knowledge to inform our practice. Access to such a variety of experiential knowledge is a rich and beneficial complement to the academic training of mental health professionals.

To some extent, online communities, whether on TikTok, YouTube, or Reddit, effectively normalize and validate people's experiences. These spaces will certainly not replace mental health treatments or psychoeducation. They can be a way to cope with the consequences of trauma when people can't get help due to wait times, financial constraints, or negative experiences. They offer insights into people's needs for support, understanding, and validation.

About the Authors

Ihssane Fethi, BA (Hons), is a fourth-year doctoral student in clinical psychology at the Université de Montréal. Her research focuses on international students' experiences of sexual violence.

Marine Tessier, MPs, is pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology at the Université de Montréal. She holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology from France and has significant clinical experience with various populations including victims of crime and detainees. Her doctoral research project focuses on early intervention of posttraumatic stress injuries among paramedics and emergency dispatchers.


Bennett, J. (2022, February 4). If everything is 'Trauma,' is anything? The New York Times.
Cummins, E. (2021, October 18). The self-help that no one needs right now. The Atlantic.
Gallagher L. (2021). Welcome to AnxietyTok: An empirical review of peer support for individuals living with mental illness on social networking site TikTok. Veritas: Villanova Research Journal, 3, 24- 32.
Ohlheiser, A. (2021, February 24). The beauty of TikTok's secret, surprising, and eerily accurate recommendation algorithms. Technology Review.
Palus, S. (2021, October 6). Why TikTok is so obsessed with labelling everything a trauma response. Slate.
Pandell, L. (2022, January 25). How trauma became the word of the decade. Vox.