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Complex PTSD

Clinical Psychologist, Auckland, Ponsonby & Parnell

Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder - key features and treatment

Complex PTSD Auckland

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a psychological condition that results from prolonged exposure to traumatic situations, often involving interpersonal trauma, such as ongoing abuse, neglect, or captivity. Unlike typical PTSD, which may stem from a single traumatic event, C-PTSD develops over time due to chronic and pervasive stressors.

Key features of C-PTSD include:

Re-Experiencing Trauma: Individuals may have flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories related to the prolonged trauma.

Emotional Dysregulation: Difficulty managing intense emotions, including chronic feelings of sadness, anger, or guilt. Emotional reactions may be disproportionate to the current situation.

Negative Self-Perception: Persistent feelings of shame, worthlessness, or guilt often stemming from the interpersonal nature of the trauma.

Impaired Relationships: Challenges in forming and maintaining healthy relationships, possibly due to difficulties trusting others or establishing boundaries.

Dissociation: Periods of feeling disconnected from oneself or the surrounding environment, as a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming emotions.

Alterations in Beliefs: Negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world, which may contribute to a sense of hopelessness or despair.

Hypervigilance: Heightened state of alertness, anticipating potential threats, making it challenging to relax or feel safe.

Impaired Self-Identity: Distorted or fragmented self-perception, often influenced by the traumatic experiences.

C-PTSD is recognised as a more complex and severe condition than PTSD, encompassing not only the symptoms of PTSD but also significant disturbances in self-organization. 

Treatment of Complex PTSD

The treatment for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) typically involves a comprehensive and individualised approach. Here are some common components of effective treatment:


Trauma-Focused Therapy: Modalities such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and narrative exposure therapy can be beneficial.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Helps manage intense emotions and improve interpersonal relationships.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Targets negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with trauma.


Antidepressants or Anti-anxiety Medications: May be prescribed to alleviate symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

Mind-Body Techniques:

Mindfulness and Meditation: Can help individuals stay grounded in the present moment and manage emotional distress.

Yoga and Tai Chi: Physical practices that promote relaxation and body awareness.

Support Groups:

Joining support groups for trauma survivors provides a sense of community and understanding.


Learning about C-PTSD, its symptoms, and coping strategies is crucial for individuals and their support networks.

Couples or Family Therapy:

In cases where trauma has impacted relationships, involving partners or family members in therapy can be beneficial.

Expressive Therapies:

Art therapy, music therapy, or other forms of creative expression can help individuals process emotions that may be challenging to articulate verbally.

Self-Care and Lifestyle Changes:

Emphasising self-care routines, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and establishing consistent routines contribute to overall well-being.

Establishing Safety and Stability:

Creating a safe environment and building a sense of stability are foundational aspects of C-PTSD treatment.

It's essential to note that treatment plans should be tailored to the individual's unique needs and circumstances. Seeking the guidance of mental health professionals with experience in trauma treatment is crucial for an effective and personalized approach.