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Specialisterne Foundation

Specialisterne Foundation is a non-for-profit organization that works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges. The foundation owns Specialisterne Denmark and the Specialisterne concept and trademark.

Following a traumatic event, someone may experience intense feelings and symptoms such as fear, sadness, guilt, or feeling constantly on edge. These and other symptoms are commonly experienced by people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

PTSD is generally caused by experiencing or witnessing a single traumatic event, such as a car crash, war, death of someone close, serious injury or illness, natural disaster, act of sexual violence, etc. PTSD also commonly occurs among individuals working in high-stress occupations, such as paramedics and firefighters, or individuals regularly exposed to the trauma of others, such as crisis counselors.

C-PTSD is the result of ongoing trauma that lasts for months or years, and is often the result of childhood trauma, sometimes caused by a parent or other caregiver. This trauma is usually in the form of events related to abuse, neglect, abandonment, domestic violence, being kidnapped, living through long periods of war, genocide, etc. 

While PTSD is currently recognized as a formal diagnosis, medical professionals are still in the process of gathering research on C-PTSD, despite it being a longstanding concept. Though the two share several symptoms and some believe they are too similar to warrant separate diagnoses, they have some distinctions. There are many mental health professionals who recognize C-PTSD as a separate experience, as typical PTSD symptoms don’t fully reflect some of the particular symptoms displayed by people who’ve experienced repeat trauma.

While PTSD and C-PTSD share some symptoms, they may have different presentations. The symptoms of PTSD typically fall under the categories of intrusion, avoidance, cognition/mood, and arousal/reactivity.

Intrusion symptoms are sometimes referred to as re-experiencing symptoms, and they involve sudden, intrusive memories related to the traumatic event and can be triggered by a variety of things, such as certain situations, phrases, smells, etc. Intrusion symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive, frightening thoughts.

Avoidance symptoms are the steps someone takes to avoid feelings, thoughts, situations, or places that remind them of a traumatic event, such as avoiding riding in a car if you’ve previously experienced a serious car accident. 

PTSD can also have negative impacts on someone’s cognition and mood, such as difficulty deriving pleasure from previously enjoyed activities, isolating from others, and difficulty remembering parts of a traumatic event. Additionally, someone experiencing PTSD may have ongoing feelings of guilt, shame, and fear, as well as persistent negative beliefs about themselves, other people, and the world.

People with PTSD may also be highly reactive, experiencing significant anxiety or feelings of being on high-alert. Arousal/Reactivity symptoms may include hypervigilance, feeling easily startled or jumpy, irritability, difficulty concentrating, or difficulty sleeping.

People with C-PTSD may experience many of the same symptoms as those with PTSD, such as hypervigilance and distorted feelings about themselves, often feeling as though they are completely different from other people. 

They may also experience difficulties regulating or controlling their emotions, such as sadness or anger and feelings of hopelessness or numbness. This may manifest as persistent sadness, depression, anger, or suicidal thoughts. Additionally, they may encounter relationship difficulties, such as having unhealthy boundaries/dynamics, avoidance behaviors, and trust issues. People with C-PTSD may also disconnect from themselves (depersonalization) and the world around them (derealization), sometimes even forgetting their trauma and losing once meaningful systems, such as their core beliefs and values.

It’s possible for someone to have both PTSD and C-PTSD simultaneously. For instance, if they experienced an ongoing trauma such as genocide and later survived a sexual trauma, they may experience symptoms of both.

PTSD and C-PTSD have similar treatment options. They’re primarily treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. 

Psychotherapy often focuses on identifying traumatic memories and replacing negative thought patterns with more realistic ones and learning coping mechanisms to adapt to the effects of trauma. One type of psychotherapy often used to support people with PTSD and C-PTSD is EMDR ( eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). EMDR utilizes eye movements to process and reframe traumatic memories, with the aim of reducing negative feelings associated with trauma.

Medications such as SSRIs and SNRIs may also be helpful in reducing symptoms associated with PTSD and C-PTSD.

There are some strategies outside of therapy and medication that may help people with PTSD and C-PTSD cope with their symptoms and manage their recovery process. 

These include turning to a support system when feeling overwhelmed, angry, anxious, or fearful. This can be difficult as PTSD and C-PTSD often leads people to withdraw, but having a solid social support system is important for mental and emotional well-being. Practicing mindfulness as a way of developing an awareness of what they’re feeling in the moment to help combat feelings of distress may also be helpful. Additionally, establishing a regular journaling practice can be helpful in both tracking and managing symptoms. Somatic-based practices involving grounding, sensation/awareness work, movement, and other expressive modalities have also been shown to be effective in helping people with PTSD and C-PTSD cope with their symptoms.