PTSD, Complex PTSD and Different Types of Therapy

What is the difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD?

While seemingly similar, the main difference between PTSD and CPTSD is that PTSD is typically related to a single event or a series of events within a short space of time, whereas CPTSD is generally associated with a series of recurrent events over a long period of time. Typically, PTSD develops after a stressful, distressing, frightening or traumatic experience.

There are a plethora of reasons why someone may develop PTSD, but the usual causes are affiliated with:
Serious accidents (a traumatic vehicle accident), sexual abuse, child abuse, domestic abuse, death of a loved one, health issues and of course, torture and war experience.

CPTSD, as mentioned, is caused by recurring/long-term traumatic events. These events can induced by similar situations as PTSD, but also include childhood trauma/neglect, being harmed (mentally or physically) by someone close and an experience where the trauma cannot be escaped.

Trauma is not what happens to us. But what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” – Peter A. Levine, PhD

How does PTSD / CPTSD present itself?

Although each individual may experience trauma differently, there are certain commonalities between symptoms of trauma. These can include but are not limited to: confusion, irritability, depression, anxiety, flashbacks, anger issues, nightmares, panic/anxiety attacks, fatigue, sleeping problems, trust difficulties, intrusive thoughts, unexplained somatic (physical) symptoms, negative thoughts, avoidance symptoms and even hyper-arousal.

Complex Ptsd

What are the triggers?

Triggers for PTSD and CPTSD can vary tremendously for each individual and can include sight, smell, sound, texture, thought or any other element that may remind them of a traumatic event. Some triggers can be obvious, but some can also be a lot more difficult to identify and diagnose.

There are two types of triggers an individual can have; Internal and external.
Internal triggers, associated with feelings/emotions, memories and bodily reactions (heart racing or shaking), include feelings of anger, pain, sadness, fear, loneliness, vulnerability, anxiety, tensed muscles, heart palpitations or clenched jaw.
External triggers are more due to environmental factors such as location, situation and certain individuals – anything that happens outside your physical body. This can include certain seasons, anniversaries, specific smells, objects and other external elements that may remind an individual of a traumatic experience.

What are the signs of PTSD / CPTSD?

As there are no specialised exams or tests for PTSD/CPTSD, it can be difficult to get a diagnosis – and while there are many self-assessments online, it is always best to seek a diagnosis from a trained medical professional. If you relate to any of these symptoms or feel you have PTSD/CPTSD then book an appointment with your medical professional to discuss this.

Symptoms can alter between individuals and include the individual reliving the traumatic experience, either in flashbacks or nightmares. Fear of triggers may lead to overtly avoiding certain places, people and situations.

One popular suggestion among those who experience PTSD/CPTSD is the idea to keep a log/journal/diary of any instances you experience any triggers, any internal or external events and noting any potential factors that could have caused the feeling.

Treatments for PTSD and CPTSD

Where each individual is different and specific in their needs, as is the course of treatment for them. There are two main routes of treatment – Psychotherapy and medication. In terms of the psychotherapy path, this encompasses treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT), Brainspotting (BSP), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing EMDR) and Emotional Feeling Trauma (EFT), also known as “Tapping”.

Complex Ptsd

Types of Therapy (BSP, EMDR and EFT)

Three of the most effective types of therapy for PTSD/CPTSD are BSP (Brainspotting),  EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and EFT (Emotional Freeing Technique – “Tapping”).

BSP is a branch of EMDR which targets the limbic system in order to identify the source of trauma through eye movement. During this process, a therapist will access a deeper part of the brain in order to reach the traumatic memories that are “stuck”, causing the individual to, hopefully, recognise, understand, overcome and heal from reliving it.

EMDR is an individual therapy designed to change the way memory is stored in the mind by analysing an individual’s eye movements when discussing trauma in order to reprocess the experience to move past it. While seemingly similar BSP and EMDR use different tools to measure different eye movements. EMDR, typically, requires more sessions than BSP, which is a quicker modality.

EFT is an alternative approach to trauma therapy which aims to aid physical pain and emotional trauma through the process of psychological acupressure – “tapping”. Tapping focuses on the Chinese-based theory of meridian points to balance the body’s energy, which, out of balance, can influence illness. While there are 12 original meridians, EFT focuses on nine in particular.

Similarly to acupuncture where each part of the body has a delicate link to certain emotions/experiences, proponents claim “tapping” sends signals to the part of the brain that controls stress.


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