CPTSD vs. PTSD: What’s the Difference?

November 9, 2023

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CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can both arise from traumatic experiences, and they share certain symptoms. CPTSD stems from prolonged trauma lasting months or years, while PTSD can be triggered by a single traumatic incident. The symptoms of CPTSD are intricate and may require an extended duration for effective treatment.

This guide aims to clear up the confusion concerning these conditions, exploring issues that include:

  • What does CPTSD stand for?
  • What is CPTSD vs PTSD?
  • What is the difference between PTSD and CPTSD?
  • PTSD vs CPTSD: treatment differences.
  • Do I have PTSD or CPTSD – how to get help in California.

If you or a loved one are struggling with PTSD and looking for help, contact Connections Mental Health’s PTSD treatment center in Orange County.

Differences Between CPTSD and PTSD

What’s the difference between PTSD and CPTSD, then? PTSD was officially recognized as a discrete diagnostic category only in the 1980s. However, CPTSD has yet to be acknowledged as a separate condition in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision), which serves as a key reference for mental health professionals, particularly in the United States.

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This lack of recognition has led to potential confusion and misdiagnosis. While CPTSD is identified as a separate condition in ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases), mental health professionals in the United States mainly still refer to DSM-5-TR for diagnostic purposes.

Beyond this, the relatively recent introduction of CPTSD as a clinical concept means that some healthcare providers may not be familiar with its existence, posing a challenge for individuals seeking an official diagnosis.

These two disorders differ not only in their symptoms but also in the types of trauma that typically lead to their development. Individuals experiencing CPTSD may exhibit any or all of the symptoms associated with PTSD, along with additional complexities. The prolonged duration of the trauma associated with CPTSD results in a more nuanced set of symptoms.

The specific circumstances that lead to CPTSD often involve ongoing and persistent threats to safety, such as living in a violent community, a refugee camp, or a war-zone, or being trapped in a long-term domestic violence situation. PTSD, by contrast, is more commonly associated with trauma that occurs as a single incident or within a brief timeframe, including experiences in high-risk occupations like military service and emergency medical work.

Symptoms of both disorders can be categorized into four main groups:

  1. Intrusive memories
  2. Avoidance behaviors
  3. Changes to mood and thought patterns
  4. Arousal symptoms – sleep disturbances and hyperarousal

While these symptoms may present in either condition, CPTSD involves additional complexities such as:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Poor self-image
  • Ongoing relationship difficulties

This means that CPTSD normally requires a more prolonged and comprehensive treatment approach.

Is CPTSD Worse Than PTSD?

Comparing the severity of complex trauma vs PTSD can be demanding, as each condition presents unique challenges and impacts people differently.

While both disorders can significantly impair overall quality of life, CPTSD is considered more complex due to its additional symptoms and the chronic, enduring nature of the trauma that underpins the condition. The prolonged exposure to traumatic events, typically in a repetitive and sustained manner, can lead to more persistent emotional and psychological disturbances, resulting in a potentially more challenging recovery process.

Having said that, the impact of any mental health condition varies from person to person, and the severity of each disorder is contingent on individual experiences and circumstances. A comprehensive evaluation by a qualified mental health professional is essential to determine the appropriate diagnosis and treatment for each individual.

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What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma refers to prolonged exposure to traumatic events, often beginning in childhood, where an individual experiences multiple and varied forms of trauma, especially in interpersonal relationships. This type of trauma frequently involves a lack of control and escape from the traumatic circumstances, leading to a disrupted sense of safety and security.

Complex trauma can occur in various forms, such as:

  • Chronic neglect
  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Being exposed to war or community violence

These experiences can have a profound and lasting impact on a person’s psychological, emotional, and social well-being, potentially leading to the development of CPTSD or other mental health conditions. Treatment for complex trauma often involves a comprehensive and holistic approach that addresses the multifaceted impact of the traumatic experiences.

Symptoms of CPTSD vs. PTSD

CPTSD vs PTSD symptoms stem from different forms of trauma, but they often share significant symptoms, such as:

Flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories causing the person to re-experience the trauma.

  • Avoiding people, places, and thoughts associated with the trauma.
  • Changes in mood and thinking, including detachment from others and overwhelming negative emotions.
  • Hypervigilance, irritability, and difficulties with concentration or sleep.

CPTSD, in addition to meeting the core criteria for PTSD, includes three additional symptom clusters:

  1. Difficulties with emotional regulation
  2. Impaired self-worth
  3. Interpersonal complications

These symptoms can manifest in various ways, including:

  • Emotional dysregulation leading to outbursts of anger, persistent sadness, or suicidal thoughts.
  • Preoccupation with the abuser or the abusive relationship.
  • Negative self-perception, including feelings of helplessness and shame.
  • Challenges in forming and maintaining relationships due to trust issues and negative self-perception.
  • Feelings of hopelessness and disconnection from the trauma.
  • Loss of personal beliefs, values, or faith, leading to a lack of meaning and purpose.
  • Self-esteem issues and self-blame, attributing negative events to personal shortcomings.
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Get Treatment for CPTSD and PTSD at Connections

If you have been struggling with the effects of trauma, we can help you recalibrate your life at Connections Mental Health. Our luxury treatment facility in Southern California offers evidence-based therapy in a luxurious and welcoming environment designed with your comfort and security in mind.

Compassionate and experienced mental health professionals can guide you through evidence-based interventions, helping you to improve overall well-being and restore functioning compromised by the after-effects of trauma. Call 844-413-0009 today and begin moving away from the shadow of past trauma.

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