What does "Complex PTSD" mean for Stella's patients?

What does "Complex PTSD" mean for Stella's patients?

If you think that you may be experiencing symptoms, take this PTSD test online or speak to a Care Advocate now directly by calling (908) 293-7559.

By: Shauna 'Doc' Springer Ph.D., Stella Chief Psychologist

In the last decade, we've started to notice that many of our patients identify a meaningful difference between "PTSD" and "Complex PTSD."  This article will describe the difference that is meant by patients who draw a distinction between these two concepts, and will explain how Stella views the concept of "Complex PTSD" as a discrete challenge relative to classically defined "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is often used among those who suffer from trauma as a better term to describe the challenges they face relative to the conventional understanding of PTSD. For many of Stella's patients, C-PTSD is a term that validates their experience of multiple layers of trauma. What they're expressing is that they've had early-life trauma in addition to subsequent trauma exposure in adulthood.

Stella patients often contrast this set of experiences with the conventional understanding of PTSD, which is diagnosed after someone is exposed to an event that causes a feeling of helplessness or horror. In such classical descriptions, there is often a major focal trauma that changes the life course of an individual.

For example, suppose that an individual has had a catastrophic car crash and develops PTSD as a result. In the context of this discussion, it's important to note that the very term "PTSD" has actually been evolving into "post-traumatic stress injury" (PTSI). Other classical focal traumas might be an assault, or a trauma sustained during combat operations. In such cases, the clinical treatment plan often involves identifying the central trauma, what psychologists call an "index" trauma, and doing work to process and resolve that trauma.

But with complex PTSD, there is often no clear index trauma. Individuals with complex PTSD often have a high ACEs score. ACE refers to adverse childhood experiences and is a measure of traumatic experiences like physical or emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver separation or divorce, exposure to family member addiction, or witnessing violence.

When people suffer continual trauma in early childhood, their personalities form in the crucible of their trauma exposures. Trauma shapes and changes them in ways that are both biological and psychological.  Attachment research offers a valuable perspective on how default trust (or lack thereof) is developed in early-childhood relationship contexts. From my perspective as a trauma psychologist, it should not be surprising, or an exception to the rule, that people who have suffered early childhood trauma may develop personality features that are shaped by their traumas.

This does not mean that everybody with early trauma has borderline personality features or meets the criteria for this diagnosis. It's just the inverse. Those with borderline personality features or other relationship-altering personality features may be explained in large part because of early childhood trauma experiences.

Stella advances this frame of understanding as part of how we can all destigmatize mental health challenges and help those who suffer from trauma begin to heal.



Are you experiencing symptoms of PTSI?

Stella's Symptom Quiz is a brief assessment that measures symptoms related to post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and stress. By taking this quiz, you can get an understanding of your symptoms and see if you may be a good fit for Treatment by Stella.

Stella is a leader in treating symptoms of emotional trauma and mental health challenges with innovative treatments like the Dual Sympathetic Reset (DSR), an advanced Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB). If you want to find out more information about DSR SGB, please speak to our care advocate by calling 908-293-7559.


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