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What Is Complex PTSD?

If you’ve been involved in a life-threatening or terrifying ordeal and can’t shake the memories, you could be experiencing psychological trauma which needs therapy before the symptoms worsen. A medicine like ketamine may provide the relief you need.


Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a mental health condition that you might develop after witnessing or experiencing a life-threatening or terrifying event, such as a car accident, combat, a natural disaster, or assault. Recalling the event may be as traumatic as what you lived through, resulting in symptoms that can affect your life and the lives of people around you. PTSD can lead to other mental and physical health problems with severe and lasting consequences.


If you experience a traumatic event, the consequences – possible physical injury or mental anguish – are often short-term, with most people fully recovered in days or weeks. But what if things don’t go as planned? If the memories result in bad dreams and avoidance mechanisms that persist for months or a year, then you may be suffering from Complex PTSD (C PTSD).

Complex PTSD is an emerging diagnosis and is not acknowledged by all medical professionals.”


  • Repeated nightmares and flashbacks.
  • Nausea or dizziness when remembering the trauma.
  • Hypervigilance and hyperarousal
  • Conviction that the world is perilous.
  • Being easily spooked.
  • Shifts in emotions about self and others.
  • A desire to avoid triggers that will instill memories of the trauma.
  • Feelings of separation from others.
  • Anger, fear, guilt, sadness, or shame
  • Distorted beliefs about one’s self, like low self-worth.
  • Reactive symptoms, like trouble sleeping or concentrating, irresponsible behavior, or irritable outbursts.
  • Substance abuse.


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has researched PTSD and its cohort, C PTSD, for decades, concluding that both can affect a wide variety of the population, including:

  • Children
  • Older adults
  • Women
  • Families
  • Military veterans
  • Non-combatants
  • People with extreme mental illness

The disorder can affect anyone, anytime.


Events that lead to C PTSD are the same that cause PTSD; the duration and severity of the symptoms are the biggest difference.

  • Serious accidents.
  • Physical assault.
  • Abuse, like domestic or childhood abuse.
  • Contact with traumatic events while working, including remote exposure.
  • Major health problems, such as being taken to intensive care
  • Childbirth trauma, like the death of a baby
  • War and conflict.

PTSD develops in about 30 percent of people who experience severe trauma. One of the hallmarks of the disorder is someone’s prolonged or continual exposure to a traumatic event, capped off by symptoms mentioned above.


In 1988, Harvard University’s Dr. Judith Herman suggested that some psychiatric diagnosis models, particularly the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), didn’t fully address trauma-related psychopathologies of a long-term nature.

Like other mental disorders, C PTSD has to be observed and diagnosed before its symptoms can be treated. If you think you’re experiencing this condition, talk to a doctor or mental health professional about what’s happening. Besides a physical exam, you can expect to undergo a mental assessment which may include an interview by your doctor or therapist, consulting with previous clinicians, and studying previous medical evaluations, which could last months or even years.

It can lead to anxiety and depression, phobias, substance abuse, and physical symptoms including chest pains, dizziness, headaches, and stomach aches.


Once diagnosed, your doctor or clinician may recommend different kinds of psychotherapy, including group and one-on-one. Self-help is another option, but one gaining acceptance is the use of medicine like ketamine. Ketamine has shown promise, especially in relieving symptoms of depression and complex regional pain syndrome in wounded veterans.


If you’re experiencing symptoms of C PTSD, PTSD, or another mental health disorder, talk to one of our providers to learn more about your treatment options including the clinical use of ketamine. If you or a loved one are battling the symptoms of PTSD we can help.