The Difference Between PTSD and C-PTSD

The Difference Between PTSD and C-PTSD

When we think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we tend to imagine a disorder affecting war veterans or people who have flashbacks to a traumatic event that they cannot escape from. PTSD affects a wider variety of people than typically believed and it can stem from many different causes. 

A number of events can cause PTSD in an individual, ranging from car accidents to natural disasters or to any isolated act of violence or abuse. Individuals with PTSD tend to experience vivid flashbacks to a traumatic event, nightmares, and detachment from others. It is a very difficult condition to live with and individuals often feel separated from society thus turning reclusive (BRADENCOUNSELING, 2019).

Recently, psychologists have begun to realize that there is a new sub-category under PTSD called Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). C-PTSD differs from PTSD in that it is caused by “long-lasting trauma that continues or repeats for months, even years” (Tull, 2020). In addition to the symptoms associated with PTSD, individuals with C-PTSD also experience difficulty controlling emotions, feelings of distrust, symptoms of dissociation, and often view themselves in a negative light.

C-PTSD is still not officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, but the concept has been well established amongst the psychiatric community. As a result, many treatments have been developed for C-PTSD, in addition to the already existing treatments for PTSD. Cognitive behavior therapy is a treatment that has been used for both PTSD and C-PTSD; it involves “identifying traumatic memories and negative thought patterns and replacing them with more realistic and positive ones.” Individuals learn to cope in accordance with the impact of their trauma. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another form of therapy, which uses “eye movements guided by the therapist to process and reframe traumatic memories.” In addition, there are several medications available to alleviate the symptoms associated with C-PTSD. These usually work best in conjunction with psychotherapies (Tull, 2020). 

Jennifer Chesak always believed that she had escaped mental illness. When she was diagnosed with C-PTSD, she struggled to accept her diagnosis. To her, PTSD was something only those who had survived war or natural disaster could develop. She couldn’t pinpoint a single moment of trauma in her life that stood out to her. She learned that her condition was different from PTSD. She had C-PTSD, which meant she had suffered from a series of traumatic events instead of just one. Jennifer had experienced prolonged emotional abuse from her mother, which caused her to develop C-PTSD. She has now come to terms with her diagnosis and is receiving treatment. She finally feels heard and understood for the first time in her life (Chesak, 2019).

C-PTSD is a much more complex form of PTSD and can affect any individual who has experienced prolonged trauma. Most people usually associate extreme events with trauma, however, trauma encompasses psychological and emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, and domestic violence (Tull, 2020). Both PTSD and C-PTSD strongly affect one’s day-to-day life and can significantly lower one’s quality of life. It is important to remember the difference between the two and spread awareness. So many people go through life without realizing that they are not alone and that help is out there. There are many treatment options for both PTSD and C-PTSD, so don’t be afraid to seek help today. 



BRADENCOUNSELING. (2019, November 21). Understanding the difference between PTSD and CPTSD. Braden Counseling Center.

Chesak, J. (2019, July 31). I Have Post-Traumatic Stress and Didn’t Know It — and You Might, Too. Healthline.

Tull, M. (2020, June 14). An Overview of Complex PTSD. Verywell Mind.

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