A Look at Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)

As we mentioned in our blog about eating disorder myths, not all diagnoses are clear-cut and straightforward. There are many conditions that feature similar symptoms and characteristics to other conditions, and that can make diagnosis more complicated. One such mental health condition that we are seeing frequently is called complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Because CPTSD is a fairly new idea (more on that in a moment), it’s not a diagnosis that everyone is familiar with. But because there is a frequent comorbidity with eating disorders, we wanted to address it here.

What is CPTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after an individual experiences prolonged and repeated traumatic events. This can include things like ongoing abuse, neglect, or living in a war zone. The symptoms of complex PTSD can be severe and long-lasting, and they can greatly affect a person’s ability to function in their daily life.

Symptoms of complex PTSD can include:

  • Intrusive memories or nightmares of the traumatic events
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • Hypervigilance or feeling on edge
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Negative changes in self-perception and self-worth
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships
  • Persistent feelings of guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Depression and anxiety

It is important to note that the symptoms of complex PTSD can be different from those of traditional PTSD. While both conditions can involve flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidance, individuals with complex PTSD may also experience dissociation, or a feeling of being detached from oneself or one’s surroundings. They may also have a hard time regulating their emotions and may feel emotionally numb.

The UK’s Mind.org explains: “Complex PTSD is a fairly new term. Professionals have recognized for a while that some types of trauma can have additional effects to PTSD, but have disagreed about whether this is a form of PTSD or an entirely separate condition, and what it should be called.”

What causes CPTSD?

The causes of complex PTSD can vary, but it is often the result of prolonged and repeated traumatic experiences, such as childhood abuse, domestic violence, or living in a war zone. It is also more common in individuals who have experienced multiple types of trauma, such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

How is CPTSD treated?

The treatment for complex PTSD is typically a combination of therapy and medication. One form of therapy that is often used is called prolonged exposure therapy. This therapy involves helping the individual confront and process their traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment. Another form of therapy that can be effective is called cognitive processing therapy. This type of therapy helps the individual learn how to challenge and change negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves that may have developed as a result of their trauma.

Medications that can be used to help with the symptoms of complex PTSD include antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications can help with symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties.

It is important to note that treatment for complex PTSD can be a long process, and it can be difficult for individuals to feel as though they are making progress. It is important to have a therapist who is trained in treating complex PTSD, as well as a support system of friends and family.

While complex PTSD is a serious condition that can greatly affect a person’s ability to function in their daily life, it is treatable. With the help of therapy and medication, individuals can learn how to manage their symptoms and move forward with their lives.


Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.

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