Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is a condition that occurs after a person experiences prolonged and repeated trauma, often in childhood or adolescence. It is a more severe and long-lasting form of PTSD that affects the individual’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. CPTSD can be difficult to diagnose, as its symptoms often overlap with those of other mental health conditions and can be easily overlooked.
What is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after a person experiences a traumatic event. Traumatic events can include physical or sexual abuse, natural disasters, combat, car accidents, or other life-threatening events. PTSD can cause intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, feelings of anger, irritability, and guilt, and feelings of numbness and detachment.
Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD can vary greatly between individuals and can be categorized into four types: intrusive thoughts, avoidance, negative changes in mood and thinking, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.
Intrusive thoughts can include recurring memories, flashbacks, and nightmares of the traumatic event.
Avoidance behaviors involve steering clear of people, places, or activities that may trigger memories of the trauma.
Negative changes in mood and thinking can include feelings of guilt, anger, and irritability, as well as negative thoughts about oneself and the world around them.
Changes in physical and emotional reactions can include being easily startled, feeling tense or on edge, and experiencing physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat or sweating when reminded of the trauma.
Causes of PTSD
The cause of PTSD is not fully understood, but it is believed to result from a combination of biological and environmental factors. When a person experiences trauma, the brain releases stress hormones that help them cope in the moment. However, if the trauma is severe enough or happens repeatedly, the stress hormones can overwhelm the person and cause long-lasting changes in the brain that result in PTSD.
PTSD can occur as a result of a wide range of traumatic experiences, here are some real-life examples:
A soldier who has been in combat and has witnessed death and destruction may develop PTSD
A survivor of sexual assault may develop PTSD as a result of the traumatic experience
A person who has been in a serious car accident may develop PTSD
A child who has grown up in a household with domestic violence may develop CPTSD
“Surviving trauma can be incredibly difficult and can leave a lasting impact on a person’s life. PTSD and CPTSD can affect a person’s mental and physical health, as well as their relationships and daily functioning. It’s important to seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD or CPTSD.”
CPTSD can be difficult to diagnose, as its symptoms may overlap with those of other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. In addition, individuals with CPTSD may feel shame or guilt about their experiences, which can make it difficult for them to seek help or talk about their symptoms.
Assessment by a Mental Health Professional
A diagnosis of CPTSD is typically made by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. During the assessment, the mental health professional will ask questions about the individual’s experiences, including any traumatic events they may have experienced and any symptoms they are currently experiencing. The mental health professional may also conduct a mental health evaluation and consider any other relevant factors, such as the individual’s medical history and current medication use, to determine if CPTSD is present.
CPTSD is diagnosed based on specific diagnostic criteria, as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). The diagnostic criteria for CPTSD include a history of prolonged and repeated trauma, symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidance, and emotional numbing, and significant impairment in daily functioning and relationships.
Importance of an Accurate Diagnosis
An accurate diagnosis of CPTSD is important for several reasons. First, it can help individuals better understand their symptoms and the impact that trauma has had on their lives. Second, an accurate diagnosis can facilitate the development of an appropriate treatment plan, which can help individuals manage symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Finally, a diagnosis of CPTSD can provide validation and support for individuals who have experienced trauma and are struggling with its aftermath.
Treatment and Recovery from PTSD
Treatment for PTSD can vary depending on the individual, but the most common forms of therapy include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is a form of therapy that helps individuals understand and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. In the context of PTSD, CBT can help a person learn coping strategies and process their traumatic experience in a healthier way.
Exposure Therapy involves gradually facing and confronting triggers related to the traumatic event in a controlled and safe environment. This type of therapy can help individuals overcome avoidance behaviors and reduce their fear and anxiety related to the trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR is a form of therapy that involves having the person focus on a traumatic memory while following the therapist’s finger or other stimuli, such as a light or sound. This process is believed to help rewire the brain and reduce the distress associated with the traumatic memory.
Recovery from PTSD and CPTSD is possible, but it takes time and patience. Working with a mental health professional and seeking support from friends and family can greatly aid in the recovery process. It’s important to remember that recovery is not a linear process and there may be setbacks along the way, but with perseverance and the right support, recovery is achievable.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is a severe form of PTSD that can occur after prolonged and repeated trauma, often in childhood or adolescence. Symptoms of CPTSD and PTSD can include intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, negative changes in mood and thinking, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Treatment for PTSD and CPTSD can include therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, as well as medication. With time and the right support, recovery from PTSD and CPTSD is possible.
It is important to seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD or CPTSD. A mental health professional can provide a proper diagnosis and work with you to create a treatment plan that is right for you. Remember, healing takes time, but with perseverance and the right support, it is achievable.
Complex PTSD: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment, and Finding Support. (n.d.). Complex PTSD: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment, and Finding Support. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cptsd
The difference between CPTSD and PTSD and how to treat each condition. (n.d.). Insider. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://www.insider.com/guides/health/mental-health/cptsd-vs–ptsd