Complex Trauma, do I have it?

Complex Tramua

Complex trauma is a term used to describe repeated and prolonged exposure to traumatic events, such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, and other adverse childhood experiences. However it is not a diagnosis. This can be problematic for those who are experiencing distress.  Self diagnosis and labelling in itself may have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and overall well-being. Thus complicating an already distressing situation.  In this blog, we will explore what trauma is and how the term complex trauma is used.

What is Complex Trauma?

At the time of writing this blog (April 2023)  the term Complex trauma could be found on many websites. It was described as occurring when a person is exposed to multiple or ongoing traumatic experiences that affect their ability to feel safe, secure, and in control. Further to this  a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, difficulty regulating emotions, dissociation, and impaired interpersonal relationships have been outlined. The idea of  Complex trauma has also been  linked  to the development of other mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and dissociative disorders. However some of this may not be accurate.

Do I have Complex Trauma?

Because the term  complex trauma is not defined by any diagnostic manual, and because the use of the term is very broad, the  symptoms that are put forward to define it can overlap with other mental health conditions. Regardless, if you have experienced multiple traumatic events (or a single event) and are experiencing ongoing emotional, psychological, or behavioural problems, it’s essential to seek help from a mental health professional.

What about my Symptoms?

The term Complex trauma has often been used to describe symptoms when people have more than one mental health problem. Co-occurring mental health issues after trauma are quite common with reports of  59% of men with PTSD and 44% of women with PTSD meet criteria for 3 or more other psychiatric diagnoses (Brady et al. 2000).

Some of the Symptoms of Complex Trauma you can find on the internet::

      • Difficulty regulating emotions, including intense anger, fear, or sadness

      • Flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories of traumatic events

      • Feelings of shame, guilt, or worthlessness

      • Avoidance of reminders of the trauma

      • Difficulty trusting others or forming healthy relationships

      • Self-destructive behaviour, such as substance abuse, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts

    Of note is that these symptoms are also the symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD.

    The term is also often used to describe someone who experiences ongoing  high levels of distress. Ongoing high levels of distress are usually associated with diagnosable mental health difficulties. Different mental health difficulties often have well developed evidence based therapies.

    Treatment for Complex Trauma:

    Many options are put forward on the internet; these include psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), trauma-focused therapy, and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). However, these are potentially not helpful if we do not have a diagnosis that is recognised universally. For example PTSD in Australia is the same as it is in the US, the UK and Africa.

    At the Centre for Clinical Psychology in Melbourne, our experienced clinicians are trained in assessment and diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems that can arise out of exposure to traumatic experiences. We offer evidence-based psychotherapy approaches that have been shown to be effective in treating mental health problems associated with traumatic experiences, such as Prolonged Exposure (PE),  Cognitive Behavioural  Therapy (CBT), and Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). Our team works collaboratively with clients to develop personalized treatment plans that address their unique needs and goals.

    If you are experiencing symptom after trauma, or have had trauma during childhood and have some symptoms, seeking help from a mental health professional is essential. The Centre for Clinical Psychology is here to support you on your healing journey. Contact us by calling 03 9077 0122 or visiting to book an appointment with one of our experienced clinicians. We are committed to helping you achieve better mental health and a better quality of life.


    Brady, K. T., Killeen, T. K., Brewerton, T., & Lucerini, S. (2000). Comorbidity of psychiatric disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 61 Suppl 7, 22–32.