Recognizing Complex PTSD and Getting Help
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, also called complex PTSD or C-PTSD, is a serious mental health condition. It is a lot like traditional PTSD, but some key differences set it apart. For example, C-PTSD has more substantial effects on things like personality traits, sense of self, and relationships, than PTSD.
If this sounds like you, you might wonder, “How do I know if I have C-PTSD?” or “What are my treatment options?” This page will go over what a Complex PTSD test is and how to identify symptoms, as well as the effects of repeated trauma, and the treatment options available at Icarus Behavioral Health that can help you overcome PTSD and CPTSD.
Keep reading to get started and find options for relief today!
What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used to diagnose mental health conditions. Up until recently, complex PTSD was not in the DSM. However, the ways complex trauma can present and affect a person differently led many individuals in the medical field to push for differentiation between PTSD and C-PTSD. This is for two main reasons.
First, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a person must have experienced or witnessed at least one traumatic event, including short-term events or events that occurred only once, in addition to meeting the rest of the criteria for the disorder. On the other hand, people with complex PTSD will have endured what is called “chronic trauma.”
What is Chronic Trauma?
“Chronic trauma” can refer to any long-term trauma a person faces. Examples of chronic trauma can include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Domestic violence
The second main distinction is that complex PTSD symptoms can differ somewhat. Specifically, complex PTSD symptoms are often more intense. Responses to trauma also differ, and assessing those inherent reactions can also be helpful. While a person with C-PTSD can experience all of the same symptoms as an individual with PTSD, they may experience additional symptoms, too.
C-PTSD Symptoms and Self-Testing Measures
You cannot fully self-diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder or C-PTSD on your own. However, understanding the symptoms of complex PTSD can help you identify it in yourself so you can approach a medical or mental health professional for a diagnosis. Review the following symptoms of C-PTSD and consider seeking help if they resonate with you.
People with C-PTSD experience all the core symptoms of PTSD (re-experiencing, avoidance, and changes in arousal or reactivity). Examples of what this might look like include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Re-experiencing: Intrusive memories, flashbacks, intense or prolonged psychological distress once exposed to reminders of the traumatic event or recurring distressing dreams.
- Avoidance: Avoiding places, people, conversations, activities, or objects that remind someone of a traumatic event they have witnessed or experienced.
- Alterations in arousal or reactivity: Irritability, angry outbursts, reckless or impulsive behavior, sleep disturbances, trouble focusing, or hypervigilance.
People with C-PTSD are more prone to experiencing other symptoms in addition to the ones listed above. Specific symptoms that may be seen in someone with C-PTSD in addition to other PTSD criteria include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Behavioral symptoms, such as impulsivity, substance abuse, or self-harm.
- Cognitive symptoms, such as dissociation and identity disturbance.
- Persistent difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
- Emotional dysregulation.
Both people with traditional PTSD and C-PTSD can experience persistent negative self-perception, negative emotions, and other symptoms, but C-PTSD often comes with more significant impairment. Often, this is how C-PTSD is detected.
Somatic symptoms are commonly associated with many mental health conditions. With PTSD and C-PTSD, somatic or physical symptoms can include but aren’t limited to the following:
- Body aches.
- Joint pain.
- Rapid breathing.
- GI distress.
C-PTSD symptoms and the overall effects of trauma can be incredibly strenuous on a person’s body, mind, and life. Experiencing repeated trauma is more common than you might think, and it is not your fault.
How Does Repeated Trauma Affect Your Life?
In addition to the direct symptoms a person with complex PTSD might experience, repeated trauma can affect a person’s life in many ways. We talked about persistent difficulties in interpersonal relationships, which might mean that you have unstable, intense relationships, trouble trusting other people, codependency, or insecure attachment.
We also touched on dissociation and identity disturbance. It is very common for those who have experienced long-term trauma to face episodes of dissociation, depersonalization, or derealization. These symptoms can be severely distressing and may lead you to feel disconnected from yourself or the world around you. Identity disturbance is a term used to describe a persistently unstable sense of self. Like other symptoms, this can be addressed in talk therapy.
Furthermore, repeated and continuous trauma are associated with a higher likelihood of other disorders. People with C-PTSD may also live with a substance use disorder, eating disorder, depressive disorder, or another condition. It is quite common that C-PTSD will pair with one or more additional challenges. Getting treatment that addresses your full spectrum of mental health needs is ideal in this case.
What are the Risk Factors for CPTSD?
Not everyone who encounters a traumatic event will develop PTSD or C-PTSD. Why is that? While there’s no known singular cause, some things raise the likelihood that a person will get C-PTSD. Here are some risk factors suspected to increase the likelihood of C-PTSD.
- Multiple traumas: If you have experienced multiple traumatic events, it’s more likely that you’ll get C-PTSD. In other words, you are at a higher risk if you have previous trauma but experience another traumatic event.
- Type of traumatic event. Certain types of traumatic events are associated with a higher risk of complex PTSD. Ongoing childhood trauma or any other form of trauma that lasts for a longer duration of time (e.g., continuous domestic violence, war, or entrapment) increases your risk of C-PTSD.
- Lifestyle factors. Certain lifestyle factors, such as lacking a strong support system, can increase your risk of complex PTSD.
Regardless of your personal history or risk factors, C-PTSD treatment can make a tremendous difference in your life and help you create a future with newfound freedom.
What are the Best Treatments for Complex PTSD Symptoms?
Multiple evidence-based treatments are used for complex PTSD treatment. In treatment programs like those offered at Icarus Behavioral Health, clients typically engage in multiple forms of therapy for the most comprehensive and effective treatment. Some of the best therapeutic interventions for complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) at this time that you’ll find at Icarus or in other treatment spaces include the following.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a well-known treatment used to address trauma. The purpose of EMDR is to help you reprocess and desensitize yourself to traumatic memories through eye movements, tones, or tapping. In turn, many people find that their symptoms and quality of life improve.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can address many mental health concerns and conditions. For example, CBT can lessen feelings of anxiety, depression, negative beliefs about oneself or low self-esteem, and several other challenges that may present for a person after trauma occurs. Two of the main goals of CBT are to reframe maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors and to develop new, healthy coping skills. It is a well-researched form of therapy and is the golden standard in treating many mental disorders.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) was developed specifically to treat trauma disorders like PTSD. It is a specialized type of CBT highly recommended for people with traditional PTSD or C-PTSD. In CPT, individuals challenge and work to change maladaptive thought patterns and beliefs related to their trauma. In other words, they start to process things differently.
By gaining a new perspective through these practices, the trauma no longer affects a person’s current life as extensively, and their symptoms and quality of life improve.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
Like CPT, prolonged exposure therapy is an adapted form of cognitive behavioral therapy. In prolonged exposure therapy, a licensed mental health professional helps clients approach memories, situations, and feelings related to traumatic events safely. Through this exposure, traumatic events from the past will stop having as much of an effect on your current life. You will be able to envision and create a new future for yourself.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is another type of therapy derived from CBT. However, DBT focuses specifically on the following four components: Mindfulness, emotional regulation (formally known as emotion regulation), distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. While DBT was designed to address personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, it is valuable for anyone who experiences intense emotions, as well as many others.
The specific type of DBT used to address trauma disorders is called trauma-focused DBT or TF-DBT. Our staff members are trauma-informed and offer trauma-focused DBT as part of our C-PTSD treatment programs.
Some people with complex PTSD benefit from medication in addition to other forms of treatment, like therapy. If you have another underlying mental illness that can be treated with medication, this could be relevant to your care, too. We offer medication management in our programs for those who need it.
C-PTSD Programs at Icarus Behavioral Health
Our programs utilize state-of-the-art psychological therapies known to be effective in treating those who have experienced traumatic events. No two people with C-PTSD or any other mental health condition are quite alike. Icarus Behavioral Health offers a full continuum of care and distinct programs that help people address their individual mental health needs. If you’re not sure what level of care is right for you, our admissions staff can help.
Our inpatient PTSD treatment programs provide an immersive experience that allows you to focus on your healing process entirely. In inpatient treatment at Icarus Behavioral Health, you’ll live on-site for the duration of your program. Our luxury amenities make it a comfortable space to stay. During the day, you’ll engage in a combination of individual and group therapy, recreation, and other treatments or activities relevant to your needs.
Outpatient treatment allows you to live off-site while receiving comprehensive treatment at our facilities throughout the week. Multiple levels of outpatient care are available at Icarus Behavioral Health to provide you with the flexibility and support you need.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) at Icarus Behavioral Health provide the most intensive level of outpatient care. While in PHP, clients engage in group therapy, individual therapy, and other treatments applicable to their situation most days on any given week for the duration of their program but sleep at home.
Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) are more flexible and require a lower time commitment, but the treatment activities you’ll engage in are similar to those seen in PHP. It is common for clients to move down to IOP after inpatient treatment for continued support.
Aftercare Planning for Trauma Programs
All of our programs involve aftercare planning of some kind. Aftercare planning helps you build a plan for when you exit treatment. Your personal aftercare plan may involve many practices depending on your needs, like working with prescribers continuously for medication management, therapy, or attending support groups. When recovering from trauma, it is always important to have a support system.
Reach Out Now for Trauma and CPTSD Support
Icarus Behavioral Health is a leading mental health and substance abuse treatment center in New Mexico with specialized programs created to address C-PTSD and other concerns. We accept most major health insurance carriers and have staff members available 24/7 to answer your questions.
To get in touch, call Icarus Behavioral Health for a confidential discussion and to get options for effective treatment programs to help you or a loved one overcome trauma successfully.
FAQs on Complex PTSD Testing and Assessment
How do you test for complex PTSD?
To get a proper diagnosis of C-PTSD, a medical or mental health professional must give you an assessment. Usually, an assessment used to test for C-PTSD will involve questions about the traumatic event or events you’ve experienced and your symptoms. The assessment will also ensure that your symptoms are not better attributed to another condition.
Can I self-diagnose C-PTSD?
While C-PTSD patients are sometimes the first to notice their symptoms, you cannot fully self-diagnose C-PTSD. Only a licensed mental health professional or qualified medical provider can diagnose mental disorders like C-PTSD.
For example, a psychiatrist or primary care physician. If you suspect that you have C-PTSD, the next step is to bring it up to a medical or mental health provider or call the staff at Icarus Behavioral Health, so that they can give you a formal evaluation or help you find someone who can.