Understanding the Difference Between PTSD and CPTSD

As Veteran’s Day quickly approaches, we all take the time to think about the brave men and women that risk their lives for the freedoms that we enjoy on a daily basis. Unfortunately, for many of these brave soldiers, they have experienced extremely traumatic events that can alter the way that they perceive the world. The same can be said for our brave first responders that often have to keep a calm and cool head when faced with hugely traumatic circumstances.


As a society, we used to believe that these men and women will have much better lives once they came home from all of the stress and anxiety that their jobs provide. However, we are now discovering that PTSD and CPTSD are real concerns for anyone suffering from a traumatic event.
PTSD and CPTSD are mental health conditions that stem from past experiences. While they are only one letter apart, there is a definite difference between PTSD and CPTSD.
PTSD and CPTSD affect people in very distinct ways. Each disorder inflicts different emotions and feelings in a person. Let’s explore what each disorder is and how they differ from one another.

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It occurs after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or a violent attack. PTSD can also occur in people who have witnessed horrifying experiences, even if it did not happen to them.
This psychiatric disorder is also known as combat fatigue, because of the number of World War II soldiers who experienced PTSD once returning home. It’s not uncommon for war veterans to experience PTSD symptoms following their time in combat.
According to the American Psychiatry Association, PTSD affects 3.5% of the American population. Women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men.
Living with PTSD creates intense thoughts and feelings. The person may experience disturbing flashbacks, nightmares, and feel detached from others. PTSD causes people to become reclusive, and react strongly to certain things, such as loud noises.

What is CPTSD?

CPTSD stands for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a mental health condition in which a person might experience intense PTSD symptoms that coincide with other mental issues. CPTSD occurs in people who have been subjected to ongoing traumatizing experiences.


Warning signs of CPTSD are similar to PTSD, but they can also include:

  • Intense feelings of distrust towards the world
  • Constantly feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Difficulty controlling all emotions, not just anger
  • Feeling like you are different than everyone else
  • Avoiding forming relationships and friendships
  • Experiencing dissociation symptoms
  • Having frequent suicidal thoughts

Complex PTSD causes emotional flashbacks in people. The hallucinations create intense feelings that vividly remind a person of their traumatic past. The flashbacks can disrupt daily living and make it difficult for a person with CPTSD to concentrate.

PTSD vs CPTSD

PTSD has been recognized since 1980, but complex PTSD is a fairly new term. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) acknowledges CPTSD as a mental health disorder. Currently, the DSM-5, the manual for mental health assessment, does not list CPTSD as a separate mental health condition.
Psychologists have found those with PTSD often experienced one traumatic event in their lives, while those suffering from CPTSD endured frequent traumatic experiences. CPTSD often stems from ongoing childhood neglect, domestic abuse, human trafficking, and living in a war-torn region for more than one year.
Both PTSD and CPTSD require professional treatments. Due to its complex nature, CPTSD therapy might be more intense, frequent, and extensive than PTSD treatment.

Get the Mental Health Care You’re Looking For

Both PTSD and CPTSD are mental health disorders that lower a person’s quality of life. They may stem from different sources, but both conditions are treatable with professional help.
Now that you know the difference between PTSD and CPTSD, spread awareness to others. It’s essential for those suffering to understand they are not alone in their battle. Help is always available.
Our team is here to guide those battling with PTSD and CPTSD to the right treatment. Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can assist you or your loved one.