PTSD Vs. CPTSD (Complex PTSD): Key Differences and Treatment
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In the discussion of mental health distress that stems from trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder is likely to be brought up. But it’s important to remember that not all trauma disorders are the same: There are actually varying degrees of PTSD that can impact the treatment plan for symptoms, such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or CPTSD.

PTSD and complex PTSD are both serious mental health disorders that can impact a person’s overall quality of life. Trauma can affect your emotional, psychological and behavioral patterns that can interfere with your everyday productivity and relationships with others. By noting the differences that set CPTSD apart from PTSD, you can gain a better understanding of the disorders as a whole and which diagnosis may align with the patterns of you or a loved one.

PTSD vs. CPTSD: Key differences

Both PTSD and CPTSD are trauma disorders that can develop following a distressing, scary, or life-threatening event or situation. CPTSD tends to be more severe, complicated and long-term than PTSD. 

While the criteria of PTSD are outlined in the DSM-5, CPTSD has not been identified as a distinct, diagnosable mental health disorder. The symptoms of CPTSD, which we will discuss below, are sometimes identified as disorders of extreme stress not otherwise specified as outlined by the DSM-5. 

The key differences to know about PTSD vs. complex PTSD are the length of trauma and the resulting symptoms.

PTSD vs. CPTSD: Length of trauma 

The duration of the trauma is often one of the key differentiating factors between the types of trauma disorders. PTSD tends to occur after experiencing or witnessing a single traumatic event. PTSD may develop from:

  • Assault 
  • Car accident
  • Natural disaster
  • Unexpected death of a loved one

CPTSD occurs due to repeated trauma, or a trauma that took place over an extended period of time, such as:

  • Childhood neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse

PTSD vs. CPTSD: Symptoms 

It’s important to remember that trauma is not the event or circumstance itself, but how it affects your mental, emotional and behavioral health, which manifests through symptoms.

People with CPTSD can have the same core symptoms as PTSD, but they will likely experience additional symptoms as well, including interpersonal issues, decreased self-worth and emotional dysregulation.

Symptoms of both PTSD and CPTSD include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Hypervigilance
  • Avoidance of triggering places, situations or people 
  • Persistent negative emotions, such as anger and sadness

CPTSD symptoms can also include:

  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Lack of self-esteem 
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Detachment from themselves (depersonalization) and their reality (derealization)

Treatment for PTSD vs. CPTSD

Recovery is possible for anyone who has trauma. Whether you have PTSD or CPTSD, it’s possible to alleviate the symptoms, develop coping mechanisms for triggers and improve your overall quality of life. 

Treatment for trauma disorders is determined by collaborating with your health care providers. They’ll work with you to design a treatment plan that will be the most effective for the severity of your symptoms. The two most common treatment options for PTSD and CPTSD are psychotherapy and medication.

Talking to a therapist for a trauma disorder is similar for both PTSD and CPTSD, often involving trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. The goals are to understand how your mind and body have been affected by the event or situation, adjust negative thought patterns related to it, and develop skills to manage the symptoms on a day-to-day basis. For CPTSD, there may be additional interventions to address emotional dysregulation and feelings of shame or guilt.

While there isn’t any medication approved to treat PTSD or CPTSD, your doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe you medication to reduce your symptoms. Common prescriptions for PTSD and CPTSD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and sleep medications.

Lightfully can provide personalized, holistic treatment for your PTSD and CPTSD

Even though they are similar, PTSD and CPTSD don’t affect the mind and body in the same way, so the treatment shouldn’t be the same for them either. While both can benefit from psychotherapy and medication, a person’s trauma disorder treatment should be as personalized to their symptoms as possible. Your symptoms should be noted and addressed properly through treatment.

At Lightfully, we make sure that your particular trauma disorder symptoms get the most effective treatment possible to move you along your mental health journey. We have four levels of care that you may be referred to, depending on the amount of support that your symptoms require. We offer Residential Treatment (RTC), a Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), a Partial Hospitalization Program and an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). 

All four levels of care use evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care provided by deeply compassionate experts.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step to treating your PTSD or complex PTSD, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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