Recognizing and Understanding Complex PTSD

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Chances are pretty good that you’re familiar with the term post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD. PTSD has long been recognized as a psychiatric condition that can develop in the wake of trauma. But in recent years, experts have begun using a separate, less well-known term—complex PTSD (C-PTSD)—to describe the distinct mental health challenges that can result specifically from prolonged and repeated traumatic events, and they say understanding the differences is key when it comes to effective treatment.

So what should providers and concerned loved ones know about C-PTSD? How do its symptoms differ from those of PTSD? And what types of trauma are most often associated with it?

Audience Questions

Patricia Mangones, PMHNP-BC, provides an overview of C-PTSD and its treatment, shares tips for recognizing signs of the disorder, and answers audience questions about supporting someone living with C-PTSD.

  • What are the key differences between stress and trauma?
  • Can you give us an overview of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
  • What sets complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) apart from PTSD? And how did it emerge as a distinct term?
  • When it comes to understanding C-PTSD, what should we know?
  • Can you give us an example of what C-PTSD might look like in real life?
  • What diagnostic tools are available to professionals for identifying C-PTSD?
  • Is there a typical age of onset for C-PTSD?
  • Can racism, discrimination, or marginalization be a cause of C-PTSD?
  • Can you talk about secondary traumatic stress and how it pertains to C-PTSD?
  • Generally speaking, how treatable is C-PTSD?
  • What happens if C-PTSD goes untreated?
  • What does C-PTSD treatment look like?
  • Are there co-occurring disorders that can come into play with C-PTSD? And is it possible to have PTSD and C-PTSD at the same time?
  • How does C-PTSD due to sexual abuse in childhood affect relationships as an adult? Is there research available on this topic?
  • How does emotional neglect in childhood factor into developing C-PTSD?
  • Is there a difference between how men and women experience C-PTSD?
  • What can somebody who has been through treatment for C-PTSD expect out of life? Do you have a message of hope for someone struggling with the disorder?
  • Can you speak to loved ones of someone who is dealing with C-PTSD? What can they do to best support that individual?
  • What do you want to share with clinicians who might not feel equipped to treat this complex disorder?
  • How does C-PTSD or trauma manifest physically in the body?
  • When, if ever, is medication appropriate in treatment for C-PTSD?
  • What is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)? Is it used in the treatment of C-PTSD?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


You may also find this information useful:

About Patricia Mangones

Patricia Mangones, PMHNP-BC, is a nurse practitioner at McLean’s partial hospital trauma program. where she facilitates trauma-informed medication management and group therapy.

Mangones began her career at McLean Hospital in 2013 as a staff nurse for the Dissociative Disorders and Trauma Inpatient Program. She is a member of the Interdisciplinary Recovery Oriented Practices Committee and has been a preceptor for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner students.

More Webinars

It’s important to think about ways to manage your mental health. McLean is committed to providing mental health and self-care resources for all who may need them. You and your family may find these strategies from McLean experts helpful to feel mentally balanced in your everyday lives.

Sign up now for the next webinar in our Mental Health Webinar Series.

Originally aired on March 9, 2023