Complex trauma can lead to lifelong challenges. Complex trauma occurs when people experience multiple traumas, such as neglect, abuse, or racism, over months or even years. Traumas so complex can lead to severe emotional health concerns, but you can find the best treatment for complex trauma to help you heal.
What is Complex Trauma?
Complex trauma, often called Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), is a severe trauma disorder resulting from ongoing exposure to traumatic or extremely distressing events. This chronic trauma exposure causes problems with daily functioning, relationships, and may even result in physical symptoms.
“Complex trauma is the result of ongoing exposure to trauma that a person can’t properly process,” said Mark Blakeley, MS, LPC, LAC Lead Therapist at Integrative Life Center. “This trauma causes them severe distress and harms their ability to live a happy, fulfilling life.”
If you or someone you know displays signs and symptoms of C-PTSD you may want to contact a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. These symptoms can cause a person severe distress. Symptoms also can worsen the longer they progress.
Signs and symptoms of C-PTSD:
- Anxiety. Feelings of anxiety, like sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, restlessness, and fatigue are common when you have C-PTSD. Your mind is stuck in a fight or flight state, which makes it extremely difficult to regulate and calm your system.
- Avoidance. Avoiding places, people, and things that activate memories of the traumatic events. Making excuses not to go places where the event occurred or not seeing people associated with the event.
- Flashbacks. Feelings of being back in the event or having dreams of the traumatic event.
- Loss of Sense of Self. No longer feeling like oneself or changing drastically after a traumatic event, feeling negative about self.
- Challenges with Emotional Regulation. Inability to control one’s emotional state, lashing out, or feeling like you’re living in a constant state of chaos.
- Relationship Issues. Difficulty making and maintaining relationships. Often feeling lonely, with the desire for companionship, but the inability to create real connection or trust others.
- Behavioral Changes. Acting impulsively, becoming more aggressive, acting out sexually, or engaging in self-destructive behavior. People often use adverse behaviors as forms of attempting to cope with trauma. These behaviors, like substance use, can then result in addictions, compounding the problem.
- Feeling Physically Ill. Feeling physical illnesses without any apparent cause for being sick. This illness may include stomach pain, headaches, nausea, or body aches.
Your Best Treatment for Complex Trauma
The nature of C-PTSD and exposure to multiple ongoing traumas make treating it challenging. The treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the closest related condition, may not be effective for people with C-PTSD. In addition, they have many co-occurring conditions, meaning more than one mental health condition exists simultaneously. Despite the challenges, your best treatment for complex trauma is available.
“People are different. The best treatment for complex trauma depends on your individual needs, but there are various treatments out there that can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life for people who experience C-PTSD,” Mark stated. “It’s vital to find a mental health professional who you feel open to sharing your experiences with so that they can guide you to the best form of treatment or mixture of treatments for you.”
Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR accesses adverse experiences and memories to bring forth resolution. During treatment, the client will process the traumatic experience while focusing on a lateral eye stimulus. It causes new associations to develop with the memory reducing the distress.
During the eight-stage process, the client will gain more cognitive insight into how the traumatic events led to negative thoughts and unwanted reactions to the memories, how current situations lead to distress and reducing those triggers, and gain new skills for facing future events.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps improve quality of life and functioning. CBT therapists help clients change unhelpful thinking patterns that have led to adverse behaviors by developing coping skills that relieve symptoms.
Treatment strategies include recognizing how unhelpful thoughts have created problems and how to reevaluate those thoughts. It also helps clients gain insight into behavior, develop problem-solving skills to cope with difficulties, and develop a greater sense of self. The client will work toward facing their fears, role play potentially challenging situations, and learn to calm their mind and body.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT works with individuals who experience difficulties regulating their behavior when they have intense emotions. From the root of combing opposing ideas, DBT therapists assist clients in understanding the reality of their behavior in their lives to help them change their unhelpful behaviors.
Trauma-informed therapy requires therapists to implement treatment without retraumatizing the client. The therapist must understand trauma and how clients experience it to provide successful trauma-informed therapy. The therapist must follow core principles outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These principles are:
- Safety. The therapist must provide a physically and therapeutically safe environment for the client.
- Trustworthiness and Transparency. For the client to feel safe, the therapist must be open and honest about the therapeutic process.
- Peer Support. Integrating the stories of peers who have experienced similar trauma helps clients feel safe and trusting of the process, allowing them to be hopeful about their own recovery.
- Collaboration and Mutuality. Therapists are partners in the process who assist clients in their healing journey.
- Empowerment, Voice, and Choice. Clients should be empowered to voice their own beliefs and make choices about their healing process.
- Cultural, Historical, and Gender Awareness. Therapists should approach each counseling relationship with cultural humility to not retraumatize their clients.
“Integrative Life Center’s core treatment philosophy revolves around heart-centered, trauma-focused care,” Mark said. “Everything we do at ILC is with the understanding and awareness of trauma and how it impacts people. Helping individuals understand how their mind and body automatically responds to trauma helps empower them so they can move forward with learning to cope.”
Brainspotting uses the client’s visual field to locate spots where there is unprocessed trauma in the subcortical portion of the brain. Finding the spots in the brain allows the therapist to bypass the conscious mind to access the brain’s subcortical emotional and body-based parts to relieve the underlying trauma that causes anxiety, depression, and other behavioral challenges.
Comprehensive Resource Model Therapy (CRM)
CRM works with the purest and healthiest parts of the client’s self by working on the midbrain/brainstem of the client in a neuro-biologically based treatment. Working with the midbrain/brainstem allows the client’s higher consciousness and the healthiest parts of themselves to thrive.
C-PTSD and Co-Occurring Conditions
People who experience C-PTSD often experience co-occurring conditions that may need to be treated with C-PTSD. Co-occurring conditions are those that happen at the same time as another disorder.
Common co-occurring conditions with C-PTSD are:
- Substance Use Disorder is when a person’s pathological pattern of behaviors changes due to substance use. It is common for people to attempt to treat trauma symptoms by self-medicating.
- Dissociation can be flashbacks, where the person feels they are reliving a traumatic event. They become completely unaware of their present surroundings.
- Borderline Personality Disorder typically begins in early adulthood. It is when a person has a warped view of themselves and others, causing them difficulty functioning in their daily life.
- Sleep problems may include insomnia or excessive sleeping.
“It’s not unusual for people to experience more than one disorder simultaneously. For example, depression and anxiety frequently go hand-in-hand,” Mark said. “That’s one reason it’s important to work with a mental health professional to determine what’s happening and the best approaches to treating it.”
How Integrative Life Center Can Help
Integrative Life Center offers trauma-informed mental health treatment that focuses on the whole person through connection with a trusted counselor who will walk with the client on their healing journey. ILC offers various trauma treatments and customizes the treatment you receive to your individual needs. For more information or to start treatment, contact ILC.