During life some of us have an experience that is overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control. We could find ourselves in a car crash, be the victim of an assault, or see an accident. Police, fire brigade or ambulance workers are more likely to have such experiences – they often have to deal with horrifying scenes. Soldiers may be exposed to violence and severe injury and see friends killed or injured. Some people, in time, get over experiences like this without needing help.
However, for some people, traumatic experiences set off a psychological reaction that can last for months and sometimes years. This is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD for short. Some people may develop complex PTSD from prolonged and repeated interpersonal trauma. People who experience trauma, experience symptoms which they have never felt before and the symptoms make them them question their normality. Understanding the impact and effects of the trauma they experienced is an important and beneficial aspect of their treatment.
DSM 5 criteria for PTSD
A Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence
B The presence of intrusive symptoms associated with the traumatic event(s) and beginning after the event(s) occurred
C Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the event(s) occurred
D Negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s), and after the event
E Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event(s) beginning or worsening after the event(s) occurred
F Duration of the disturbance is more than one month
G The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
H The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or other medical condition
All 8 criteria have to be met to meet the PTSD diagnosis
Type II Trauma
What is the difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD?
A person who has experienced prolonged, interpersonal complex trauma and has Complex PTSD may in particular experience the coloured symptoms. Difficulties may also include, finding it hard to trust others, complicated feelings towards a perpetrator and somatisation, (health problem with no physical evidence or reason). Complex trauma is severe, prolonged and repeated trauma, almost always of an interpersonal nature, often (but not always) beginning early in life. A particular feature of complex trauma is that victims can see the next traumatic event but can’t prevent it from happening. Complex Trauma often leads to further mental health issues such as mood & anxiety disorders.
What are the clinical symptoms of Complex PTSD?
Intrusive distressing memories
Flashbacks to the trauma
Prolonged emotional distress - external/internal triggers
Behaviours to avoid internal/external triggers/distress
Inability to remember aspects of trauma
Persistent negative beliefs about oneself/the world
Persistent negative emotional states e.g. shame, guilt
Feeling detached from others
Reduced interest in significant activities
Persistent inability to experience positive emotions
Irritable behaviour and anger outburst
Reckless or self destructive behaviour
Exaggerated startle response
Problems with concentration
Some people have Dissociative symptoms
DSM 5 criteria for cPTSD
Complex Trauma emerges after prolonged, multiple experiences.
A Alteration in regulation of emotions and compulsion
B Alteration in attention and consciousness
D Alteration in self perception
E Alterations in perceptions of the perpetrator
F Alterations in interpersonal relationships
G Alterations in systems of meaning
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