CPTSD vs PTSD – How are they Different?



What is complex PTSD or cPTSD and how is it different from PTSD? How do we treat these problems? Think of PTSD as an emotional reaction to a traumatic situation. Complex PTSD is not an official diagnosis in our diagnostic manual. Instead it’s a term used to describe a different kind of experience that a person has from chronic traumatic experiences that occur over time. It’s usually trauma that starts in childhood. This could be either physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect. Because the neglect or abuse is occurring during the extremely vulnerable developmental years, the trauma shapes your development and your personality.

Here is the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, taken from the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. This is for information purposes and not meant to help you self-diagnose. If you suspect you may have PTSD, you should see a professional for an assessment.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The following criteria apply to adults, adolescents, and children older than 6 years.
A Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of the following ways:
1 Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).
2 Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others.
3 Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend. In cases of actual or threatened death of a family member or friend, the event(s) must have been violent or accidental.
4 Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s) (e.g., first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse).
B Presence of one (or more) of the following intrusion symptoms associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred:
1. Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event(s).
2. Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s).
3. Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic event(s) were recurring.
4. Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
5. Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).
C Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by one or both of the following:
1 Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
2 Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic event(s).
D Negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:
1 Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s) (typically due to dissociative amnesia and not to other factors such as head injury, alcohol, or drugs).
2 Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous,” “My whole nervous system is permanently ruined”).
3 Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event(s) that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others.
4 Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).
5 Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.
6 Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.
7 Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g., inability to experience happiness, satisfaction, or loving feelings).
E Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the following:
1 Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects.
2 Reckless or self-destructive behavior.
3 Hypervigilance.
4 Exaggerated startle response.
5 Problems with concentration.
6 Sleep disturbance (e.g., difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep).
F Duration of the disturbance (Criteria B, C, D, and E) is more than 1 month.
G The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
H The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., medication, alcohol) or another medical condition.

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