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Complex Trauma

What is Complex Trauma?

Trauma can take many different forms in people who have experienced traumatic events and catastrophes. There are three general categories that trauma can be sorted into; acute, chronic, and complex. This article will be focusing on the third category, Complex Trauma, and what factors into how someone can experience this type of trauma and what to do if you or someone you know is affected by Complex Trauma.

Complex Trauma can be defined in two different ways depending on the onset of the trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defined Complex Trauma as “exposure to multiple interpersonal traumatic events, over a prolonged period of time, and with the potential for major long-term developmental impacts on victims, both physical and mental.” While this is a great working definition of Complex Trauma, this tends to favor the idea that Complex Trauma stems mainly from events experienced in childhood or during developmental periods.

A study conducted through the University of Southern California defines Complex Trauma as “Exposure to multiple interpersonal traumas over the life span [that] can have significant later psychological effects, both on the likelihood of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in response to a given stressor and in terms of a wide range of other symptoms and problems.” We will be working with this definition, as it includes traumatic events that are experienced throughout someone’s life.

How does Complex Trauma affect someone?

Complex Trauma can affect someone in a variety of ways. To get a better idea of how Complex Trauma can affect people, I spoke with Chuck Premer, who is partnering with Telebehavioral Health.US to create a peer support group for people who have experienced profession-based Complex Trauma. Chuck is also living with Complex Trauma after working as a paramedic for 24 years. He explained that “it’s not just one single event that causes the issues, it’s all the events [combined] changes your personality, your psyche, your outlook on life.”

What can people do to treat Complex Trauma?

People might assume that they can treat Complex Trauma with the same strategies and coping mechanisms that help someone’s acute, or singular, trauma, but Chuck advises against that. He states that “the same approaches do not work in both scenarios... most people who have dealt with a lifetime of trauma go back into that trauma day after day...overall, it takes more. Most people don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with the lifetime stuff.”

So what can people with Complex Trauma do?

Chuck suggests that finding a therapist or peer support group is a great place to start addressing symptoms of Complex Trauma. He claims that in his case “The therapist, the psychologist, [they] add coping mechanisms that you don’t see as an option, that you don’t have. They give you something new to work with.”

Speaking with someone who shares your situation where the trauma has occurred can be helpful in validating your experiences. Chuck also recommends to social workers and therapists working with someone with Complex Trauma to “allow for a level of trust to be formed, and honesty on the social worker [or therapist’s] part, honesty enough to say that you [the therapist] might not be the right person to help them.” Finding a therapist that can work with Complex Trauma is essential to be able to treat the trauma at hand.

Chuck Premer is in the process of training to create a peer support group for those who work in fire, police, and EMS. To see all of the group and individual services that we provide at Telebehavioral Health.US, or to find a specific therapist that specializes in Complex Trauma, please browse our list of services!

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