Symptoms of posttraumatic stress, complex or otherwise, can have a significant impact on quality of life. The effects can extend not only to emotional and physical wellness but also to relationships and school or work performance.
A trained, empathic mental health professional can offer support as you begin to address the source of trauma and any symptoms you’re experiencing. Symptoms often get worse as time goes on, so it’s important to get help as soon as you can. Start your search for a counselor today through our therapist directory.
If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please visit our crisis resources page.
C-PTSD and Mental Health
C-PTSD shares similar features with several other mental health conditions, which is one reason some experts may feel reluctant to identify it as a separate condition. Some mental health professionals may diagnose C-PTSD symptoms as other conditions, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD), depression, or dissociative identity disorder (DID).
Although borderline personality and C-PTSD have a lot in common, research suggests they are distinct diagnoses. A BPD diagnosis may be more likely when a person’s dominant symptoms include emotional dysregulation, troubled relationships, or an unstable sense of identity. In addition, BPD has two diagnostic criteria that C-PTSD does not. The first is a pervasive fear of abandonment. The second is a tendency to alternate between idealizing and devaluing the same person.
A diagnosis of depression may seem more appropriate when the main symptoms include a persistently low mood, irritability, hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide. Symptoms such as flashbacks or hypervigilance generally aren’t part of a depression diagnosis.
Dissociative episodes or states aren’t uncommon with C-PTSD, particularly in children or people who experienced abuse as children. It’s been suggested that dissociative identity may develop in response to severe, prolonged trauma similar to C-PTSD. Yet DID is rare, so it’s less likely C-PTSD will be mistaken for it.
While diagnosis can have an important role in treatment, what really matters is getting help that addresses symptoms. Working with a therapist who offers compassionate support that helps reduce or eliminate symptoms may, in the end, matter more than having a specific diagnosis.
However, sometimes diagnosis can make a difference in the type of approach a therapist uses. If one type of treatment doesn’t seem to help, don’t hesitate to mention this in therapy. A range of treatments can help improve C-PTSD symptoms.
Complex PTSD Treatment
Therapy for C-PTSD can take many forms, but any treatment should include an approach that specifically focuses on the trauma experienced. The following treatments are known to have benefit in PTSD and C-PTSD treatment:
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Exposure therapy (including virtual exposure)
Some professionals recommend residential treatment to address severe symptoms, especially in the beginning of treatment. But this may not always be necessary. Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible.
In any case, forming a strong therapeutic bond is essential for healing to take place. People living with C-PTSD often struggle with trust issues. Learning to trust a safe and caring professional, such as a therapist, can be an important first step toward building trust in other relationships.
Another key component of C-PTSD treatment involves working to regain a sense of self. The experience of repeated trauma can damage both self-esteem and self-identity. It may also affect personal values and goals. Therapy can provide space to:
- Reconnect with the self
- Overcome distorted beliefs and self-blame
- Explore strategies to break out of self-isolation
- Work through thoughts of revenge
- Address any unhealthy relationship ideas that develop after long-term abuse
While some medications can help address certain symptoms that occur with C-PTSD, it’s important to note medication doesn’t address the condition itself. It can only help relieve symptoms such as depression or anxiety. A care provider might recommend medication to help relieve distress that’s so severe it makes therapy difficult.
Coping with C-PTSD
The only certain way to improve C-PTSD is to address symptoms in therapy with the help of a trained professional. But alongside therapy, some self-care and self-help strategies may help reduce distress and improve quality of life.
It can help to talk about feelings and experiences that occur with C-PTSD in a safe space with other people who’ve experienced something similar. Try connecting with an in-person or internet-based support group, or ask your therapist to recommend one.
It may seem difficult to get involved in everyday activities, such as school or work, but maintaining a regular routine can help promote feelings of normalcy and stability in life. Similarly, withdrawal and avoidance may seem like good ways to avoid pain or broken trust, but healthy, positive relationships can encourage healing.
Music, art, or other creative hobbies can also serve as useful ways of redirecting anger, fear, and other emotional distress.
As the mind and body support each other, taking care of physical health can also promote emotional healing. Maintaining physical wellness might include:
- Eating regular, balanced meals
- Getting enough sleep
- Making time for physical activity
- Spending time outside in natural settings
It may take time to find the right coping strategies, but continuing to practice the things that work can lead to recovery.
Any of the empathic therapists in our directory can offer compassionate guidance and support in a safe space. Reach out today.
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