CPTSD vs. PTSD: What’s the Difference?

November 9, 2023

A woman in distress, depicting the topic of CPTSD vs PTSD, an why you should seek help

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.

an icon image of a lightbulb

Need Help Getting Mental Health Treatment?

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.

A man with his hands on his head, symbolizing the importance of seeking help with PTSD or CPTSD

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.
An image of the connections mental health home, with treatment options for PTSD or CPTSD

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.

Want to Learn More?
Recent Articles
an image of someone dealing with the 5 stages of psychosis

February 15, 2024

What Are The 5 Stages of Psychosis?

Psychosis is a term used to describe a mental state where an individual struggles to differentiate between their thoughts and reality. This condition can manifest

image representing how to help someone who self harms

February 14, 2024

How to Help Someone Who Self-Harms

Self-harm is not a cry for attention, but a cry for help. Fortunately, help with self-harming is available. Whether you need to know how to

image of friends representing joking about suicide

February 13, 2024

Can Joking About Suicide Be a Cry for Help?

Sometimes, when people joke about suicide, it makes others wonder whether it’s their way of dealing with tough feelings, or if something more serious going

image representing bad mental health day

February 12, 2024

What to do on a Bad Mental Health Day

Dealing with stress, especially alongside symptoms of depression or anxiety, can be overwhelming. If you’re sensing that your stress levels are maxing out and you

an image of someone journaling for mental health

February 9, 2024

How to Journal for Mental Health

Journaling is widely recognized as a valuable tool for managing stress, easing symptoms of depression and anxiety, sharpening your focus, and helping to structure your

image representing anxiety and sleep

February 7, 2024

How Are Anxiety and Sleep Connected?

Lack of sleep and anxiety can be interconnected. Anxiety may lead to problems with sleep, and conversely, struggling with insomnia can intensify feelings of anxiety.

an image of people who got help at Connections Mental Health

You’re Not Alone

Get treatment from a team of expert staff who is passionate about helping you experience peace.

Learn more about the individual mental health disorders we treat by clicking a button below.