Trauma, PTSD & Complex PTSD

Are you suffering from the physical, emotional and psychological effects of having experienced some form of trauma? At Brisbane Counselling Centre we use leading evidence-based treatments to assist people to recover from trauma.

What istrauma?

Trauma refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and physical reaction to an event that is shocking and overwhelming that may involve death or threatened death, serious injury or a threat to someone’s physical safety.

What are the common symptoms of trauma?

Each person reacts to trauma differently. Having said that some common signs of trauma are:  

  • Frequent nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Difficulties sleeping – sleeping too much or struggling to sleep
  • Startled easily & feeling on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Avoidance
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Self-medication with drugs and alcohol
  • Self-harming behaviours
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Challenges in relationships
  • Feelings of anger, guilt or shame

If you can relate to some or many of these signs or are unsure what you are experiencing, speaking to one of the caring Psychologists attending Brisbane Counselling Centre can help you to gain clarity and lighten your load about what is happening for you. Getting professional help for trauma and receiving evidence-based psychological care is very effective in the treatment of trauma. Examples of approaches to trauma that are evidence-based include EMDR, CBT, Exposure Therapy, and Psychodynamic therapy.

Trauma and other mental health conditions
Being exposed to trauma can lead to developing other mental health disorders, including depression or anxiety. If you had anxiety or depression before the traumatic event, trauma could make the symptoms of anxiety and depression worse. Often the earlier you seek professional treatment from someone trained to deal with trauma following a traumatic event, the earlier you can start to work through the psychological issues, minimising the impact of the traumatic event on your mental health.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

The DSM-5 defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) trauma as any situation where our life, physical or psychological integrity is threatened. PTSD is a mental health diagnosis given by a qualified professional based on symptoms experienced as a result of trauma or prolonged stress.

The traumatic event can be a one off situation, or it can be ongoing. You may have been involved in the traumatic situation or it may have happened to someone who you are close to or have some kind of relationship with, like a work colleague or a relative for example. Alternatively, you may have witnessed the traumatic event.

Examples of significant traumatic events include:

  • Divorce
  • Ongoing or severe physical pain or injury (e.g. serious car accident)
  • Community violence (shooting, mugging, burglary, assault, bullying),
  • Sexual, emotional or physical abuse
  • Rape or dating violence
  • Domestic or family violence
  • Natural disasters
  • The death or serious injury of a loved one or family member, friend, teacher, or pet
  • Witnessing an act of violence
  • War

Examples of other traumatic events that may not be life threatening as such, but can still cause physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological harm include:

  • Conflict with significant others or children
  • Infidelity
  • Conflict with supervisor/boss or colleagues
  • Abrupt or extended relocation/move
  • Planning a wedding
  • Starting a new job
  • Having or adopting a child
  • Legal trouble
  • Financial worries or difficulty
  • Expensive and unplanned home repairs (e.g., after storm damage)

Diagnosis of PTSD

To be diagnosed with PTSD the following criteria must be met as outlined in the DMS-5 and the disturbance must be present for at least one month. The level of disruption must cause significant distress or impairment across several areas of a person’s life. The disturbance experienced by the person must not be due to medication or substance use or any other medical condition.
Stressful Event

To obtain a diagnosis of PTSD one must have been exposed to a stressful event, either through their own direct experience, witnessing someone else experience the stressful event, or learning about the exposure of a stressful event through someone who you are close to. First responders, like paramedics, police officers, and fire fighters, can be at risk of developing PTSD as they have repeated exposure to extreme and stressful events.

Intrusive Symptoms
One or more of the following intrusive symptoms must be present to be diagnosed with PTSD: 

  • Recurring distressing memories
  • Repeated nightmares
  • Flashbacks of the stressor
  • Intense psychological distress following reminders of the traumatic event
  • Physical reactions, like nausea for example, after being reminded of the stressful event

Avoidance of stimuli
One or more of the following must be present to obtain a diagnosis of PTSD: 

  • One tends to avoid any memories or thoughts about the stressful event that create distress
  • Tendency to avoid any external stimuli that acts as a reminder of the trauma, including people, places and conversations for example

Negative shifts to mood and thoughts
At least two of the following need to be present to be diagnosed with PTSD:

  • Unable to recall important parts of the stressor
  • Inflated negative thoughts about oneself, the world, or others
  • Blaming others, including yourself for the trauma
  • Continuity of negative emotional responses, like fear or anger for example
  • Decreased interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Feeling disconnected or separated from others
  • Unable to feel positive emotions

Variations in arousal and reactivity
Of the following at least two need to be present to receive a diagnosis of PTSD:

  • Irritability along with angry outbursts
  • Careless and self-destructive behaviour
  • Hypervigilance
  • Inflated startle response
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Disrupted sleep pattern

Complex PTSD (CPTSD)

Traumatic events are often one off or limited by time events, like a motor vehicle accident for example. However, there are other situations where people experience ongoing trauma, where they are repeatedly exposed to the trauma over many months or even years. An example of repeated trauma is when you experience ongoing emotional, psychological, physical, or sexual abuse in your family or relationship.

There are people who believe the current criteria for a PTSD diagnosis does not reflect the severity of the psychological harm that has occurred to a person who has been repeatedly traumatised. Ongoing and prolonged trauma can interfere with a person’s development, memory, and ability to form meaningful relationships with others.

Symptoms of CPTSD
People who have endured ongoing and prolonged traumatic events tend to experience the same symptoms as PTSD, along with disordered thoughts, behaviours and emotions. Those who have been harmed in this way often experience:

  • Challenges in being able to express their emotions effectively, often loosing control, becoming explosive or feeling intense sadness constantly
  • Incredibly negative beliefs about themselves, which can lead to feelings of guilt and shame
  • Feelings of emptiness, loneliness and isolation
  • Significant difficulties in being able to develop and maintain healthy relationships as they experience a lack of trust in others

How is PTSD and CPTSD treated?

The best treatment for overcoming trauma is known as trauma therapy, which differs in treatment from general therapy. It often includes elements of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based CBT, exposure therapies including Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) in its various forms, and Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET). Trauma counselling, provided in a safe and supportive space, can be particularly effective for those who have experienced traumatic events and are struggling with feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety as a result of their overwhelming experiences. Working with a trauma-informed therapist can help individuals manage distressing feelings and cope with traumatic memories.

Therapists help people with PTSD and CPTSD by offering specialised treatment and counselling. Techniques as previously mentioned, as well as psychoeducation and skill development are utilised to address the symptoms consistent with PTSD and CPTSD to improve mental health and wellbeing. The practitioners at Brisbane Counselling Centre emphasise creating a safe and supportive environment where individuals can explore their traumatic experiences and learn new skills to manage the distress in their lives more effectively.

We can help

If you think you have PTSD, CPTSD or are wondering what is happening for you, it is important to seek professional assistance to address the trauma you have experienced, even if you think the event is small. Obtaining therapeutic help with a supportive and understanding trauma-informed psychologist from Brisbane Counselling Centre as soon as possible will assist you to work through the distress effectively. There is growing evidence that many people who resolve traumas experience a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. This means that not only do they recover, but they also make positive changes in their lives and cope more effectively than before the trauma. As a result of successfully working through trauma, we can change our worldview, leading to us developing new perspectives and life skills.

Reaching out for help takes a lot of courage and we understand how incredibly difficult taking that first step can be. People who seek therapy through Brisbane Counselling Centre with practitioners who are trained in the assessment of trauma and create a client centred therapeutic treatment plan, often find they improve in a surprisingly short period of time compared to the amount of time they have had the trauma for. Brisbane Counselling Centre offers a nurturing and supportive environment for people who have experienced trauma.