Therapy With Abby
Abby Hartman MS, NCC, LPC
EMDR Trained Therapist
Relationship & Couples Counselor
PTSD Therapy in Dallas, Texas
When people think of PTSD they typically think of one really big, tragic event such as a car accident, a combat soldier in the middle of a war, witnessing a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tornado. While all of these things can very well be the root of PTSD, there are also multiple things that can happen throughout life. Death by a thousand cuts if you will. Which can lead to something called complex trauma or complex PTSD. Complex PTSD goes unrecognized because people (or their doctor, partner, parent) write it off as “being crazy,” “being too much,” or being “overly sensitive.”
Complex PTSD can look like anxiety, depression, and physical illness. Complex PTSD can leave people in fight or flight mode for long periods of time. While the fight or flight response is a great defense mechanism in the moment, we simply are not meant to live in that state for long periods of time. Complex PTSD can be caused by covert or overt abuse from a caregiver while growing up, having parents or loved ones come in and out of your life, not knowing when your needs will be met or when you may feel abandoned. Complex PTSD is. Well… complex.
Through therapy, we will explore your life story and history of events and experiences which have added up over time and taken a toll on you and your quality of life. Through this process, I will also help to acknowledge and validate the experiences you’ve had that at one point may have just felt “normal” or how life was supposed to be, when in reality it may have been traumatic.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition caused by experiencing or witnessing trauma. Unlike regular PTSD, complex PTSD, or C-PTSD, comes from being traumatized repeatedly over an extended period of time.
It may be caused by events like:
Long-term physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
Life as a refugee, war prisoner, or long-term exposure to war violence
Complex PTSD causes many interpersonal problems and difficulties in day-to-day life. Without addressing the trauma in therapy and taking steps to heal, the effects of this severe, persistent trauma can cause lifelong problems. Treating complex PTSD in treatment may seem intimidating and uncomfortable. However, recovering from your trauma is the best gift you can give yourself.
Complex PTSD Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of complex PTSD are similar to those of regular PTSD but are typically more severe:
Intense depression, or suicidal thoughts or actions
Frequent panic attacks
Nightmares and flashbacks
Hypervigilance — or feeling constantly threatened, perhaps even paranoid
Extreme difficulty opening up or being vulnerable with others
Feelings of shame, guilt, or worthlessness
Dissociation — mentally disconnecting from your thoughts, feelings, surroundings, and identity
The DSM-5 doesn’t have an official diagnosis for complex PTSD, but the World Health Organization does. It states that in addition to typical PTSD symptoms, complex PTSD involves:
Difficulty regulating emotions
A negative self-image
The trouble with interpersonal relationships
People with complex PTSD have often been abused for a long time by someone close to them — someone they should have been able to trust. When we’re treated poorly by people who are supposed to care for us, we develop a deep distrust, maybe even fear, of others. It causes significant problems with attachment. Lifelong problems getting close to people and maintaining relationships are common. Additionally, unlike regular PTSD, trauma leading to complex PTSD doesn’t just occur in childhood. Severe trauma and resulting complex PTSD can happen to us at any point in life.
Should I Go to Therapy for Complex PTSD?
Although the events that caused complex PTSD may be long over, you may still be feeling the effects in your relationships and behaviors. Long-term problems that come from unresolved trauma commonly include a pattern of unhealthy relationships, substance abuse, or mental health issues like depression. Unfortunately, these issues and patterns are extremely difficult to stop without help from a professional.
I’m trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR. It’s an innovative type of therapy created to address trauma, especially the kind of severe, extended trauma that causes complex PTSD. Research shows that it’s effective and can even lead to people losing their PTSD diagnosis.
The idea of addressing complex PTSD in therapy can be daunting because talking about trauma is triggering. In EMDR, you don’t have to talk about your trauma at all. Instead, you’ll be asked to think, not speak, about your trauma and use coping skills, which I will teach you. We’ll then use this reflection to build insight.
To cope with your post-traumatic stress, you may have problems with alcohol abuse or drug abuse. When mental health problems and addiction occur together, it’s called a dual diagnosis. I treat clients with dual diagnoses at Therapy With Abby by addressing the mental health and substance abuse issues at the same time. This way, one doesn’t cause a relapse in the other.
I started Therapy With Abby to use my therapeutic training and skills to help people overcome issues like complex PTSD. If you are struggling with these symptoms, please don’t suffer in silence. Give me a call today to discuss how we can get you started on the path toward healing.