Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a common disorder altering the lives of millions of people. Yet, there is little training available for survivors or practitioners.

This article will explain what CPTSD is, the difference between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and CPTSD, and some resources to help educate survivors and providers of mental and physical care.

The Symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


Although CPTSD is not yet recognized as a diagnosis, the disorder’s symptoms are plain to see. It was proposed in 1988 by Dr. Judith Herman that the new diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder needed to receive recognition to describe the symptoms of long-term trauma.

Many people lose contact with themselves and their loved ones because they are too overwhelmed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Some of the recognizable symptoms of CPTSD are:

  • Losing memories of trauma or reliving them
  • Difficulty regulating emotions that often manifest as rage
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feeling detached from oneself
  • Feeling different from others
  • Feeling ashamed
  • Feeling guilty
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Seeking out or becoming a rescuer
  • Feeling afraid for no apparent reason
  • Having a feeling of being always on the alert
  • Becoming obsessed with revenge on the perpetrator
  • Feeling a loss of spiritual attachment and either ignoring or depending upon religion for self-worth

These symptoms will not go away without proper treatment and may last a lifetime. It is critical to note, and we will discuss this later, that CPTSD has some overlapping symptoms with PTSD but has glaring dissimilarities.

The Differences Between Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder





The critical difference between CPTSD and PTSD is what causes these two debilitating disorders. CPTSD is caused by long-term trauma. These traumas include:

  • Sexual Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Physical Abuse
  • Mental Abuse
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Human Trafficking
  • Living as a Prisoner of War
  • Living in a War Zone
  • Surviving a Concentration or Internment Camp

Post-traumatic stress disorder is related to experiencing a single traumatic event such as:

  • Car Accident
  • Tornado or Other Natural Disaster
  • Mugging
  • Rape

The events that cause post-traumatic stress disorder are shorter but highly traumatizing, causing some wicked symptoms.

The symptoms of PTSD are also different. They include:

  • spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events
  • recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or effect (i.e., feeling) of the dream is related to the events
  • flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring
  • intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events
  • persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or strongly associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders
  • inability to remember an essential aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
  • persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world
  • persistent, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • persistent inability to experience positive emotions
  • irritable or aggressive behavior
  • reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • hypervigilance
  • exaggerated startle response
  • problems with concentration
  • clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other critical areas of functioning not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, alcohol, or another medical condition

Clearly, each disorder has its own symptoms, causes, and effects.


Providing Trauma Psychoeducation

Unfortunately, there remains an enormous gap in both survivors’ and providers’ education about complex post-traumatic stress disorder. It cannot be stressed strongly enough how desperately survivors and providers need education on CPTSD to help themselves and those who come to them for help.

A paper written by Bethany J. Phoenix states that teaching people about trauma and its effects helps survivors and providers understand their own stress responses and acknowledge coping strategies that provide a sense of control over their emotions.

The paper said that education about the persistent effects of trauma helps survivors better understand their own stress responses, and knowledge of coping strategies provides a sense of control over these responses. Trauma education for providers can minimize negative countertransference and prevent vicarious traumatization.

Phoenix stated in the conclusion of her paper, “Advanced practice psychiatric nurses may provide psychoeducation to people who suffer from complex psychological and behavioral disturbances related to severe and persistent abuse or trauma, especially early in life.”

Publications About Trauma and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A growing amount of literature is being published of books that teach readers about CPTSD and how to overcome its effects. One author, Pete Walker, has an extensive website outlining the different aspects of trauma and discusses different treatment methods of complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pete Walker has also written a book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. In his work, Walker outlines a map to help survivors and providers understand the almost linear progression of healing. The book also helps people identify the signs of recovery and develop sensible expectations of healing.

Another helpful book that takes about CPTSD is The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole by Dr. Arielle Schwartz.

Dr. Schwartz’s book teaches all about complex post-traumatic stress disorder to give survivors of childhood trauma and their provider’s insight into the symptoms associated with CPTSD and encourages survivors to take their healing into their hands. Readers will discover examples and exercises that uncover instances of trauma expert guidance to explore somatic therapy, CBT, and mind-body perspectives. The book helps readers find the tools to work through CPTSD and regain emotional control.

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence- From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Dr. Judith Herman is a groundbreaking book that redefines how we think about and treats trauma victims. Dr. Herman argues that psychological trauma cannot be separated from its social and political context.

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a book that has opened many people’s eyes to the effects and aftermath of trauma. Dr. van der Kolk, a foremost expert on trauma who spent over thirty years working with survivors, writes how trauma reshapes the Body and brain of survivors and affects their ability to experience pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust.

The book also explores different paths to recovery, such as neurofeedback, meditation, drama therapy, and yoga that activate neuroplasticity.

Some other publications and websites help teach survivors and providers about complex post-traumatic stress disorder as well.

Ending Our Time Together

There are vast differences between PTSD and CPTSD. As yet, the diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder is not recognized in the psychiatric community. However, as evidence builds for its existence and the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) lists it as a diagnosis, it is only a matter of time before it is recognized in the United States by the American Psychological Association.

Both survivors and providers of care need to learn more about CPTSD to overcome its life-altering effects. As more providers become trained in the treatment of CPTSD, it will become much easier for survivors to receive the care they need and deserve.

The list of books and websites I mentioned above is only a partial list of the books and websites that cover the different aspects of CPTSD. CPTSD Foundation is dedicated to spreading the word about the realities of living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and we invite you to visit our site.


Phoenix, Bethany J. (2007). Psychoeducation for Survivors of Trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care Vol. 43, No. 3.




If you are a survivor or someone who loves a survivor and cannot find a therapist who treats complex post-traumatic stress disorder, don’t hesitate to contact the CPTSD Foundation. We have a staff of volunteers who have been compiling a list of providers who treat CPTSD. They would be happy to give you more ideas about where to look and find a therapist to help you. Go to the contact us page and send us a note stating you need help, and our staff will respond quickly to your request.

Are you a therapist who treats CPTSD? Please consider dropping us a line to add you to our growing list of providers. You would get aid in finding clients and help someone find the peace they deserve. Go to the contact us page and send us a note, and our staff will respond quickly.

Shortly, CPTSD Foundation will have compiled a long list of providers who treat complex post-traumatic stress disorder. When it becomes available, we will put it on our website

Visit us and sign up for our weekly newsletter to help keep you informed on treatment options and much more for complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you or a loved one live in the despair and isolation of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please come to us for help. CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services, including:

The Healing Book Club



Today, CPTSD Foundation would like to invite you to our healing book club, reading a new book that began in September. The title of the latest featured book is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.


The healing book club is only $10 per month and is led by Sabra Cain. The fee goes towards scholarships for those who cannot afford access to materials offered by CPTSD Foundation.


Should you decide to join the Healing Book Club, please purchase your books through our Amazon link to help us help you.


All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up; we will be glad to help you. If you cannot afford to pay, go to to apply for aid. We only wish to serve you.

Coming Off of Mute

The Body Stores Trauma in Different Ways