From a Therapist: How to Recover from Complex PTSD

Friday, July 14 2023

Mariam Saibu, CDBT, LPC, CRC, LCDC, CTP, a SonderMind clinician, shares her insights on complex PTSD — how it’s different from PTSD, causes, and symptoms. If you’re struggling, or are wondering how to recover from complex trauma, SonderMind can connect you to a licensed therapist who specializes in PTSD and complex PTSD. 

What is complex PTSD (CPTSD) and how is it different from PTSD?

Complex PTSD is not a disorder recognized by the DSM-5* but has been adopted by the ICD-11.** It can be defined as a “severe mental health disorder that emerges as a result of traumatic life events”.1  Unlike PTSD which can result from a single traumatic event, complex PTSD typically arises from sustained or multiple traumatic events over a longer period of time such as childhood trauma. In addition to the common symptoms we see in PTSD, individuals with CPTSD tend to exhibit pervasive disturbances in relationships, emotions regulation, and identity.1

What can cause CPTSD?

CPTSD can be caused by repeated exposure or experiencing traumatic events over a long period of time. Some common examples are child abuse, domestic violence, sexual trafficking, and genocide.

What are the symptoms of CPTSD?

Symptoms of CPTSD mimic PTSD, with symptoms being more severe. We tend to see individuals with CPTSD exhibit marked difficulty with relationships, regulating emotions,  negative perception of self, depersonalization, and derealization.

How can therapy treat CPTSD?

A lot of the interventions for PTSD will work for CPTSD. However, there must be components of psychoeducation and bottom-down interventions that accompany talk therapy. Research recommends that therapeutic treatment put an emphasis on trauma-focused interventions, psychoeducation, safety, building a strong therapeutic alliance, and developing emotional regulation.1 A few examples of trauma-focused interventions to treat CPTSD are dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) with prolonged exposure, internal family systems (IFS), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and sensorimotor psychotherapy.

Talking to a therapist about trauma can be difficult, but it is an essential step in the healing process. By being open and honest, your therapist can help you create a safe and supportive environment to process your traumatic experiences. With the right support and guidance from a trauma-informed therapist, it is possible to heal and move forward from trauma.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of complex trauma, SonderMind can help. SonderMind’s licensed therapists are trained in multiple specialties and trauma-informed care, including complex trauma such as PTSD and CPTSD. Let us know a little bit about yourself and what you’re looking for, and we can connect you with a licensed mental health professional who can help you recover from PTSD or complex PTSD. 

*DSM-5 stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. It is the professional reference book on mental health and brain-related conditions and is the main guide for mental health providers in the U.S. 

**ICD-11 stands for International Classification of Diseases, 11th revision. It is a global standard for physical and mental conditions published by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

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