Trauma, PTSD, and Complex PTSD


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological reaction that can occur after you have experienced a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, numbness, or horror.  PTSD can result from any event where a person feels emotionally, physically, or psychologically threatened.  Even even if you were not threatened yourself, witnessing a traumatic event can also result in PTSD.  Examples of such events are:

  • Sexual assault
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Physical violence
  • Emotional abuse
  • War
  • Natural disasters
  • A car accident
  • A loved one cheating on you or abandoning you

When a person experiences a traumatic event, often the brain gets stuck in the past in “fight, flight, or freeze” mode.  If the brain has not fully processed a traumatic event or a long-term pattern of trauma, people find that present triggers can evoke the memory of the event along with intense, overwhelming physical and emotional reactions.

  • Possible PTSD triggers include:
    • Sounds
    • Smells
    • Sights
    • Events
    • Facial expressions
    • Tones of voices
  • Emotional Symptoms of PTSD include:
    • Extreme anxiety
    • Agitation
    • Numbness
    • Rage
    • Flashbacks
    • Nightmares
    • Terror
    • Dissociation in the present
  • Physical Symptoms of PTSD include:
    • A racing heart
    • Breathing difficulties
    • Nausea
    • Insomnia
    • Excessive sweating
    • Migraines
    • Chronic pain

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a psychological reaction to multiple, prolonged traumatic events over the course of many months or years.  Most people who develop C-PTSD have experienced prolonged childhood trauma, though some adults can also develop C-PTSD.  When children experience repeated trauma as their brains are still developing, they learn messages about themselves in relation to their caregivers that result in beliefs such as “I am not safe” or “I am bad” or “I am unlovable.” They can develop significant attachment issues and have difficulty with trust and intimacy in relationships.  Scientific evidence also points to a link between chronic and acute health conditions and adverse childhood traumatic experiences.

People who struggle with PTSD and C-PTSD may feel that the world is a frightening place with no hope for recovery.  Evidence shows that by using trauma-focused therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Internal Family Systems, survivors of trauma can rewire their brains and reprocess their traumas at a pace that is safe for them.  These types of therapy are different than traditional talk therapy in that they do not only help you make sense of what happened to you intellectually, but they work by changing physiological responses within the body.  Evidence shows that trauma is re-experienced in the body, and so in order to heal, it needs to be reprocessed and healed through the body.

I am trained in treating PTSD and Complex PTSD through EMDR and Internal Family Systems.  I also teach trauma survivors skills for keeping themselves safe using DBT and the Seeking Safety protocol.