Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is characterised by a traumatised reaction to being involved in or witnessing a distressing or frightening event.

While PTSD is well-known, what many people don’t realise about it though is that there are two different forms of the condition.

There is PTSD itself, and something called Complex PTSD. So what is the difference? In this article, we take a look.

Any trauma-based condition is difficult to live with


Here are the definitions of both conditions:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This is an anxiety-based condition that can develop after a person either witnesses or experiences a traumatic event. The person will often relive the trauma through disturbing thoughts or feelings, flashbacks or nightmares. The individual may withdraw from others and avoid visiting certain places. Due to the symptoms, PTSD is a very difficult condition to cope with.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD): This form of PTSD is linked to people who have experienced ongoing trauma, as opposed to one singular traumatic event. Their trauma has lasted for an extended time period. Symptoms are similar, with disturbed thoughts or feelings common, as are flashbacks and nightmares. Losing trust in others is a normal reaction for someone with Complex PTSD – which is very difficult to live with.

The key differences

For the majority of people with PTSD, their condition is caused by a singular traumatic event. Perhaps it was witnessing a natural disaster, or being the victim of a physical assault.

This traumatic event leads to their symptoms developing. It can develop many years after a traumatic event, or straight after.

But for some people, traumatic events can be a regular occurrence – sometimes over a long-term period. Ongoing trauma can lead to symptoms becoming aggressive, and difficult to deal with. This is where Complex PTSD arises – it applies to people who have been the victim or experienced traumatic events over an extended time period.

Because an individual with Complex PTSD has had to cope with numerous traumatic events, they may feel trapped, and become hopeless about their prospects for the future.

Furthermore, people with Complex PTSD will often lose trust in others – affecting their life immeasurably.

While any form of traumatic event can cause PTSD, complex PTSD involves longer-term trauma. Common causes are child abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic abuse.

But like people with PTSD, someone with Complex PTSD will experience symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares, and will often try to avoid any location that reminds them of their traumatic event.

Is there any difference in treatment?

The treatment for both PTSD and Complex PTSD is similar. Both normally involve talking therapy, and if needed – medication.

The only difference is that those with Complex PTSD may require a more intensive form of therapy, or longer-lasting.

If someone with one of these conditions needs medication, they will normally be prescribed an antidepressant like Sertraline. You can read more about how trauma conditions are treated at this link.


This article could give off the impression that PTSD is not a debilitating condition, and that only Complex PTSD is. However, this is not the case. Both are very serious conditions.

The good thing about both forms of PTSD is that full recovery is possible. Treatment can help both forms of PTSD, and result in a significant improvement in quality of life.

See Also


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