Finding The Right Therapist For Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By: Sarah Fader

Updated December 25, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include sensitive content such as trauma or domestic violence.

If you're living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, it's important to know that you are not alone. There is hope and help for this condition. This article will cover how to find the right therapist to begin your healing process toward a healthy, fulfilling life.

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What Can I Do For My C-PTSD?

You might be wondering what you can do to cope with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or C-PTSD. One of the best ways to manage C-PTSD is awareness, and you can find that emotional insight by seeing a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma and recovery. It's one thing to go to therapy and another to see a mental health provider who deals explicitly with trauma and recovery. When you have C-PTSD, you want to see a provider who has experience treating clients who have been through traumatic experiences similar to those you have endured. These professionals will help you address your trauma and teach coping techniques. You may be wondering, what are some coping strategies for C-PTSD?

Coping strategies can be divided into three categories:

  • Distraction - This is a coping technique where the individual engages in an activity that distracts them from their pain or discomfort.
  • Soothing - 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 mean reaching out to your therapist for help. Or, perhaps it's a grounding exercise to bring you back from the beginning signs of a panic attack.

These are a few of the strategies that a person with C-PTSD can use to cope with their illness. We'll go into detail about the signs of C-PTSD later in the article.

"BetterHelp understands how painful trauma can be. The online counselors here at BetterHelp are dedicated to supporting you through your mental health journey and will let you go at your own pace."

Many People Live Well With C-PTSD

According to the American Psychological Association, the majority of people will experience trauma in their lives. Additionally, approximately 5.2 million Americans between 18 and 54 (around 3.6 percent 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 need through therapy and medication.

It can help to have a reliable support system of friends and family to talk to about your trauma. One of the best ways to come to terms with your trauma is in therapy, whether online or in your local area. Several kinds of therapy that can work for PTSD, but one of the most effective is EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing treatment. In EMDR, the client follows their therapist's fingers back and forth and thinks of a painful memory associated with their trauma. After doing this, the patient then closes their eyes and lets their mind wander. As the mind wanders, it begins to process the trauma the person experienced. This treatment allows a patient to confront trauma in a safe space with a trusted therapist. There's also trauma-focused therapy, where the client works with a trusted mental health professional to delve into the trauma itself and learns coping strategies for resulting panic, anxiety, and depression. Many other forms of therapy can also help trauma survivors, and we will discuss them later on in this article.

BetterHelp Wants You To Heal From Trauma

Research shows that online counseling can be a powerful tool in reducing PTSD. This study, for example, found that online therapy is a useful option for people with PTSD and more efficient than face-to-face treatment. Web-based therapy can still maintain the important therapeutic relationship found in more traditional therapy treatment settings, which means you will still have the opportunity to develop a strong connection to your counselor.

Every person needs to feel comfortable with their therapist, but it is particularly important for those with C-PTSD. BetterHelp will work to match you with a therapist who makes you feel safe and who you can trust. When you meet with an online counselor who specializes in trauma and recovery, you can be sure that you're in a secure space where you can speak your truth and begin to process what you've been through. The excellent counselors at BetterHelp aren't here to judge but rather to help you treat your scars and traumatic experiences. BetterHelp therapists will also let you go at your own pace. There's no timeline on healing from trauma, and your counselor understands this. You can take all the time in the world to sort through your concerns. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Jessica is amazing!! She is so understanding and empathetic. She has done a great job helping me work through my trauma while providing a safe environment that I feel comfortable in. I would recommend her to anybody and everybody!”

“Carmen is really insightful and listens to me, and acknowledges my experience and challenges with PTSD. I feel heard and supported. It’s been only a short amount of time but I am confident in her ability to help me.”

We're Here To Support You Through Painful Life Experiences
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Once you work through that trauma, you can develop a plan to start healing and living a fulfilling life. C-PTSD is a severe mental health issue, but it's highly treatable with therapy, and online counseling is an excellent option.

What Is C-PTSD?

C-PTSD or complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition similar to PTSD. The difference between PTSD and C-PTSD is the cause that led to the development of the disorder. These two psychological disorders have many of the same symptoms, but understanding the reasons that led to the disorder will help a trained psychology professional make a diagnosis and put you on a path to healing.

C-PTSD is a psychological disorder that develops from prolonged mental and physical trauma. Repeated trauma that causes harm and/or abandonment by an intimate caregiver and situations wherein the individual is helpless, trapped, either physically, mentally, or both, can leave the individual with severe physical and mental illness disorders.

This disorder is not yet listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMV-5), but it is under consideration. Many psychology professionals recognize C-PTSD, and it is understood as having different causes and symptoms than PTSD. Many psychology journals have already published information about C-PTSD, further separating it from PTSD.



What Are The Symptoms Of C-PTSD?

C-PTSD symptoms involve physical and mental symptoms, and children and adolescents exhibit different symptoms than adults. Where PTSD is often the result of a single traumatizing life event, those with C-PTSD have experienced from multiple repeated traumatizing life events.

Here is a tentative list of symptoms for children and adolescents with C-PTSD:

  • Cognitive challenges such as difficulty processing new information and with executive functions such as planning and self-monitoring
  • Attachment challenges such as lack of empathy, lack of trust, relationship boundaries, and social isolation
  • Emotional challenges such as difficulty regulating, identifying, and expressing emotions
  • Disassociation challenges such as amnesia and poor memory/recall of specific events
  • Behavioral challenges such as aggression, self-soothing, and impulsiveness
  • Physical/biological challenges such as sleep disturbances, sensory-motor development, sensory integration, and pronounced medical challenges

The following is a list of symptoms for adults with C-PTSD:

  • Emotional challenges such as difficulty regulating emotions, suicidal thoughts, and explosive or inhibited anger
  • Consciousness challenges such as lost memory of traumatic events, reliving experiences of traumatic events, disassociation, and mental preoccupation with traumatic events
  • Feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, a sense of being different than others, and feelings of defilement
  • Challenges concerning relationships such as isolation, withdrawal, or lack of trust
  • Psychotic challenges and breaks with reality

You can read about additional symptoms here. The importance of finding the right therapist for complex post-traumatic stress disorder should not be ignored. If you or someone you love lives with C-PTSD, there is help. The right therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist can make a remarkable difference and provide the tools needed to overcome this disorder and find peace.


You may read the full study here: A therapist-assisted cognitive behavior therapy internet intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder: Pre-, post- and 3-month follow-up results from an open trial.

Finding The Right Therapist For Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The right therapist will make a world of difference for anyone who lives with C-PTSD. Consider these tips to help you or a loved one find a psychology professional:

  • Look for a professional who is experienced in the best treatments for C-PTSD:
    • CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy
    • CPT or cognitive processing therapy
    • PE or prolonged exposure therapy
    • EMDR or eye movement desensitizing and reprocessing
    • Evidence-based medications
  • Find out if the professional you are interested in has experience with C-PTSD
  • Make sure the professional is licensed
  • Find out if your insurance is accepted
  • Ask questions before you decide
    • What is your education and are you licensed?
    • Can you prescribe medications?
    • What kinds of treatment do you provide?
    • Do you have any specialty areas?
    • Have you treated patients with this condition before?



Can Someone With PTSD Fall In love?

Someone with PTSD is a whole person capable of loving and being loved. With that said, people with PTSD can feel unlovable due to their trauma. If you love someone with PTSD, it's important that you are patient and understanding and are actively helping your partner to treat their symptoms.

Is C-PTSD A Disability?

Both PTSD and C-PTSD can be considered disabilities and mental disorders. If PTSD symptoms affect a person’s ability to live a full, productive life, they may consider applying for disability benefits.

What Is The Difference Between C-PTSD And PTSD?

PTSD and C-PTSD are similar but differ in some fundamental ways.


PTSD usually corresponds to one traumatic event. For example, a car crash, an assault, or another singular event in childhood or as an adult. When you experience a traumatic event, it can cause quite a bit of psychological stress, often leading to various anxiety and other mental health challenges. Learning the common symptoms of PTSD, seeking treatment for PTSD, understanding your triggers, and working with a therapist can help you with your symptoms and help you

live a better life.


C-PTSD involves repeated trauma or prolonged trauma. For example, fighting in a war or being in a long-term abusive relationship. People with C-PTSD may experience repeat childhood trauma, whereas others may have had various, unrelated traumatic events happen across their life. In these cases, sometimes a person may not only feel traumatized but like they're bad luck. C-PTSD symptoms are similar to PTSD, but C-PTSD is a newer medical label, and C-PTSD-related emotions, episodes, and triggers may be much more intense. Because it is long-term trauma, C-PTSD can take longer to cope with and recover from.

Is C-PTSD A Personality Disorder?

C-PTSD is not a personality disorder in itself, but C-PTSD can cause many disorders, including anxiety disorder or borderline personality disorder.

Is C-PTSD Worse Than PTSD?

It can be hard to forget trauma and move on from it, but both C-PTSD and PTSD can be effectively treated with the help of a medical professional or therapist. Multiple traumas, or long-term trauma, can be more challenging to treat.

Is C-PTSD The Same As Borderline Personality Disorder?

PTSD or C-PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder are often confused for each other and can sometimes lead to misdiagnoses, largely because symptoms can overlap. Borderline Personality Disorder, however, involves the difficulty of regulating emotions. Here are some of its differences.

  • How people handle relationships can differ. People with C-PTSD may avoid relationships altogether because they lack a connection or feel afraid to be in a relationship. Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder may have swinging emotions about the relationships. Both typically have relationship difficulties, which is where common ground arises.
  • Self-conceptions can differ. If someone has C-PTSD from surviving a traumatic event, it can develop into negative self-conception. Meanwhile, someone with Borderline Personality Disorder can have self-conceptions that differ wildly.

Can Complex PTSD Cause Psychosis?

When you have PTSD, you may experience symptoms of psychosis. Your doctor may treat your symptoms together or on their own.

With that said, what is psychosis? Here are some symptoms.

  • You may have hallucinations. You may see, hear, or have another sensation toward something that is not actually there.
  • You could have delusions. During a period of psychosis, you may believe that you're something or someone you're not, and you may hold yourself on a much higher pedestal.
  • You may experience flashbacks. This is common with people with PTSD as well. People who have been in war, for example, are known to experience flashbacks to traumatic wartime experiences or flashbacks to childhood trauma.
  • Psychosis could involve disassociation. Those experiencing C-PTSD symptoms could feel as though they’re disconnected from their bodies.

Is C-PTSD A Diagnosis?

Yes, PTSD or complex PTSD is a diagnosis made by your doctor.

Can C-PTSD Be Cured?

Research shows that therapy and medication are effective ways to treat C-PTSD and PTSD and can ease the stresses of trauma. Although there is no cure, with the help of these resources, many patients can heal over time and move forward on a path toward recovery. Please consult with your doctor or primary care physician before considering any medication options.


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