How To Find A Suitable Therapist For Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated September 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free, personal support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

If you are living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), you're not alone. 1% to 8% of the American population lives with this condition, making up 50% of mental health treatment settings, according to the Lancet. Finding a suitable therapist for your symptoms can be essential in finding support, as C-PTSD can make it challenging to feel safe. If you find yourself searching online for “a PTSD therapist near me,” it is important to know that you have options.

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What Is Complex PTSD? 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a trauma-related mental illness in the ICD-10 diagnostic manual, an international diagnostic coding book by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is considered a severe form of PTSD caused by repeated, long-term trauma, often in childhood. Repeated trauma causing an individual to feel helpless, trapped, and out of control can cause C-PTSD. For example, long-term sexual or emotional abuse, physical violence, intimate partner violence, or other trauma that repeatedly occurs over time may cause this mental health condition. However, not everyone who experiences repeated trauma or has a traumatic memory may meet the criteria for this diagnosis.

C-PTSD can be caused by long term exposure to:

  • Domestic violence
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Traumatic events
  • Childhood emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse

C-PTSD is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) the diagnostic manual many American therapists use. However, it may be added in future editions of the diagnostic and statistical manual. Many psychological professionals recognize C-PTSD as a separate experience from PTSD, which can involve different symptoms and treatment options. Therapy can be effective in treating the symptoms of this mental health condition.

What Are The Symptoms Of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Complex PTSD symptoms manifest in various ways, and a child or adolescent might exhibit different symptoms than an adult. Where post-traumatic stress disorder is often the result of a single traumatizing event or short-term experience, such as a natural disaster, those with C-PTSD may have experienced multiple repeated traumatizing life events, such as continual abuse. Some trauma survivors suffer from long-term symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, trauma flashbacks, sleep disturbances, or difficulties with interpersonal relationships. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in some cases, trauma may be linked to substance abuse or other risky behaviors.

There are various symptoms that someone with C-PTSD may experience, including the following:

  • Emotional challenges such as difficulty controlling emotions, suicidal thoughts, and explosive or inhibited anger
  • Cognitive-related challenges, such as forgetting traumatic events, reliving experiences of traumatic events, disassociation, or preoccupation 
  • Feelings of helplessness, guilt, or a sense of being different than others
  • Challenges concerning relationships such as isolation, withdrawal, lack of trust, attachment challenges, or difficulty maintaining relationships 
  • Hypersensitivities to their environment, such as loud noises or busy streets 
  • Substance abuse issues or other addictive behaviors as negative coping mechanisms
  • Low self-esteem, feelings of shame, and an unstable sense of identity

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 

Healing is possible with professional help. Finding a mental health provider or therapist for C-PTSD can be challenging, as finding an experienced specialist that can provide a safe and compassionate environment may be essential. A suitable fit can help you address your goals surrounding your symptoms, plan for treatment, and support you as you make changes in your life. A therapist who judges, belittles, or pushes you may not be effective.


How Can I Find Support For C-PTSD? 

One of the best ways to manage complex PTSD could be an increased awareness of your situation. You may find emotional insight and PTSD care by seeing a licensed therapist specializing in trauma and recovery. Therapists experienced in trauma understand how a traumatic event can impact the brain and change an individual's beliefs about themselves, the world, and others. Through patient, kind, and compassionate therapy, they can help clients see that opening up and learning healthier coping mechanisms is safe. 

Some therapists specifically offer trauma-informed care, whereas others may offer a range of specialties and different techniques. In addition, several PTSD clinics across the US may be able to offer support and coping skills for individuals experiencing PTSD. Although PTSD and C-PTSD can present differently, they are often treated similarly.

How Do You Know That A Therapist Is A Fit? 

A therapist who is a "fit" for your situation is one with whom you feel comfortable and who is qualified to offer support. You might benefit from looking for a provider specializing in a particular therapy modality, such as the following:  

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapist (CBT) 
  • Cognitive processing therapist (CPT) 
  • Prolonged exposure therapist (PE) 
  • An EMDR therapist 
  • Trauma-informed talk therapist 

Before committing to appointments with a provider, consider having an intake session to ask questions and get to know them better. You could ask the following: 

  • What is your background in treating C-PTSD? 
  • What do you believe is the most effective form of treatment for C-PTSD? 
  • Do you prescribe medication? 
  • In what type of therapy do you specialize? 
  • Have you treated clients with C-PTSD before? 
  • What do you believe is most important for sessions to be successful? 
  • What can I do to participate in this treatment effectively? 

Therapists have varying backgrounds and levels of education. For example, social workers have education in human services whereas other therapists may focus only on mental disorders. You might benefit the most from a therapist who is experienced in a specific area, such as treating individuals with developmental trauma from neglect or survivors of sexual abuse.If you don't feel comfortable with a provider or don't believe that their method of treatment fits your goals, you can consider seeking another therapist at any time. 

What Coping Strategies Can You Learn In C-PTSD Therapy? 

Coping strategies can be divided into three categories, including the following: 

  • Distraction: Distraction is a coping technique where the individual engages in an activity that distracts them from their pain or discomfort.
  • Soothing: Soothing occurs when a person engages in an activity to calm themselves during a triggering episode.
  • Balancing: Balancing to cope involves using logic rather than emotion. You assess the situation and decide what practical action you can take to help yourself. That could be reaching out to a professional for help or partaking in a grounding exercise to reduce the chances of panicking. 

Another potential strategy is education. Psychoeducational therapy differs from talk therapy because it focuses on teaching mental health education in a class-like setting rather than on discussion. Learning more about what you're experiencing may help you better understand your symptoms and aid your healing process. Reading from a trauma research blog from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies or browsing the resources available from the National Institute for Mental Health may be beneficial. 

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a type of trauma therapy that uses a body-centered approach. Some trauma experts theorize that trauma could become stored in the body. SE therapy is designed to help individuals process, manage, and resolve stress in the body from traumatic events. One field study on somatic experiences showed promising results for individuals with PTSD. SE therapy focuses on building awareness, coherence, and self-regulation within the body using a variety of techniques.

Symptom Management Is Possible 

According to the APA, many people experience trauma in their lives. Approximately 5.2 million people in the US between 18 and 54 (around 3.6% of people in this age group each year) have PTSD. If you're among those living with C-PTSD, you are not alone. You can join the millions of people who have successfully gotten the help they sought through a therapist.

It can help to have a reliable support system of friends and family with whom talk about your trauma. A healthy support system can help you feel less alone in your symptoms. However, you do not need a support system to take advantage of therapy. Several types of therapy can treat symptoms of C-PTSD. Trauma-focused therapy allows clients to work with a trusted health professional to delve into their experiences and learn coping strategies for resulting panic, anxiety, and depression. 

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Counseling Options 

Finding a trusted therapist for C-PTSD can be challenging if you face barriers to treatment such as cost, time, availability, or distance. If this is the case for you, consider reaching out to a professional through an online platform. 

Research shows that an online therapist can be as effective as an in-person therapist in treating PTSD. A recent study found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy is an acceptable alternative to traditional therapy for individuals with PTSD. A web-based counselor can maintain the therapeutic relationship found in more traditional settings, and you can choose whether you meet over the phone, via video, or through live chat sessions. 

If you're ready to try online C-PTSD or PTSD counseling, consider signing up through a platform like BetterHelp that can help you match with a therapist who helps you feel safe and respected. While BetterHelp does not accept health insurance directly, it is affordable, costing between $60-$90 per week for one live session and unlimited text chatting with your therapist. Through the platform, you can indicate any types of therapies that you're interested in trying upon signing up, along with any existing diagnosis or concerns you may have about C-PTSD. 


C-PTSD can cause distressing symptoms, but you're not alone. Many forms of therapy may benefit you as you work through your experiences, including CBT, DBT, and EMDR. Consider contacting a licensed professional to learn more about these modalities and gain insight into your symptoms. 

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