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Explains what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD are, and provides information on how you can access treatment and support. Includes self-care tips and guidance for friends and family.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, sometimes abbreviated to c-PTSD or CPTSD) is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as:
"At times I felt that nothing was going to end the distress I was feeling, experiencing more than 10 flashbacks a day of the abuse I suffered as a child. It was a long process of recovery, with lots of bumps along the road, but the right medication and long-term therapy with someone I came to trust, has changed my life."
If you have complex PTSD you may be particularly likely to experience what some people call an 'emotional flashback', in which you have intense feelings that you originally felt during the trauma, such as fear, shame, sadness or despair. You might react to events in the present as if they are causing these feelings, without realising that you are having a flashback.
The types of traumatic events that can cause complex PTSD include:
You are more likely to develop complex PTSD if:
"Developing PTSD after experiencing domestic violence was not something I was prepared for. Physically I left my old home. Mentally I am still there. The prison is no longer that house – it is my mind. My thoughts. My memories. Memories I don't wish to bury but that are in my mind more than I can control."
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best practice in health care – has not yet developed recommendations specifically for complex PTSD. They caution that the existing guidelines for PTSD weren't developed for this kind of diagnosis.
You may find standard treatments for PTSD helpful, but many people with complex PTSD need more long-term, intensive support to recover. The treatment you are offered may depend on what's available in your local area. (See our treatments page for more about seeking help for PTSD or complex PTSD.)
This information was published in May 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
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