What is Complex Trauma?

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According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2021), complex trauma (c-ptsd) describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal nature—and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive, such as abuse or profound neglect.

In the article “Understanding Complex Trauma, Complex Reactions, and Treatment Approaches”, written by trauma expert, Dr. Christine Courtois, she summarizes complex traumatic events and experiences as stressors that are:

(1) repetitive, prolonged, or cumulative

(2) most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and maltreatment including neglect, abandonment, or antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults

(3) often occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life, especially in early childhood or adolescence, but can also occur later in life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age, infirmity, and others.

Symptoms of complex trauma can include but are not limited to:

Reliving the traumatic experience

Avoiding situations with reminders of abuse

Changes in beliefs about you and others


Inability to regulate emotions

Negative self perception

Difficulty with relationships


Distorted perception of abuser

Suicidal Ideation

Treatment for complex trauma (c-ptsd)


  • -internal family system work
  • -exposure therapy
  • -cognitive behavioral therapy
  • -dialectical behavior therapy

eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)


support groups

Complex Trauma Resources






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