PTSD vs. C-PTSD: The Differences, Symptoms, and Treatments

Ellen Schindel


June 2, 2023

Content Warning: This article will discuss the experiences and symptoms of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This includes mentioning what types of trauma lead to C-PTSD versus PTSD. If you don’t wish to read that, you may scroll to the bottom where resources are posted. 

What’s the Difference?

Simply put, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is when the trauma occurs over a long period of time (months or years), whereas PTSD is often associated with a single event (Choosing Therapy, 2023). The types of events that can lead to PTSD and C-PTSD also differ for this reason. Experiencing long-term abuse and/or childhood abuse, living in a refugee camp or war zone, or any other kinds of long-term adverse childhood events can lead to C-PTSD (Choosing Therapy, 2023). PTSD is often associated with an assault, a sudden death, natural disaster, an accident, or a single event that was traumatic. 

What Symptoms Do They Share and What Are Unique to C-PTSD?

Both share the symptoms of flashbacks/ recurring intrusive memories, avoiding things that remind them of trauma (i.e. people, places, thoughts, things, etc.), and mood changes such as suddenly feeling on edge or distant from others (PTSD UK). C-PTSD includes the added interpersonal issues of the inability to regulate emotions, difficulty in relationships, as well as a general struggle in certain everyday tasks (PTSD UK). 

Whether or not you know your diagnosis, going without treatment for these symptoms can lead to lifelong physical, social, mental, and emotional consequences. Feel free to look at the resources below and reach out. 

Treatment and Coping Skills (information provided by Mind UK)

During flashbacks:

  • Focus on breathing (before an attack, it is good preparation to see what breathing techniques you prefer). 
  • Ground yourself. This could be using a 5-4-3-2-1 senses technique or having a physical object that reminds you of the present. 
  • Reminder: you are safe! Make yourself as comfortable as possible and remind yourself that you’re going to be okay. 
  • Take notes or keep a diary. This way you can note triggers, emotions, and progress. 

SSRIs paired with therapy is often the recommended treatment but it’s important to talk to your doctor. Finding a therapy style that works for you may seem daunting but it is important. Your doctor may have multiple options that are covered by your insurance, so you’ll be able to meet them and try different styles until you find one that works for you. Additionally, many universities offer a set number of free psychological counseling a semester. Ultimately, the first step is to reach out, whether that’s to your doctor, a friend, your parents, or a peer support group. 

Taking Care of Yourself

The everyday effects and symptoms of C-PTSD and PTSD can be draining so it’s important to take care of yourself. Drinking plenty of water is crucial as some antidepressants have been shown to increase risk of dehydration and heat stroke (Scher, 2018). Eating regularly, exercising, and spending time outside are all great ways of taking care of yourself as they’ve been shown to help your mental and physical health (Mind UK, 2023). 

Getting regular sleep can be challenging but is also crucial. Avoiding drugs and alcohol can help combat these challenges as well as eating regularly, exercising, and spending time outside (Mind UK, 2023). 

Ultimately, C-PTSD and PTSD are both very challenging diagnoses to have, but both are treatable and manageable. You are not alone and there are a lot of resources and people here for you. 


  • The Promly App has a “We Got You” section, in which you can directly connect to organizations and chat with professionals. 


Choosing Therapy. (2023). C-PTSD vs PTSD: Understanding the Differences. 


Mind UK. (2023). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 


PTSD UK. (2023). PTSD and C-PTSD: The similarities and the differences. 


Scher, Avichai. (2018). Here's a surprising extreme heat risk for 1 in 6 Americans. NBC News. 


Image from: https://info.totalwellnesshealth.com/blog/ptsd-awareness-month

Ellen Schindel

I'm an undergraduate from Tulane pursuing a dual degree in Public Health and Anthropology and will be graduating in May. After graduating, I'm pursuing my Masters of Public Health in Health Policy. I'm passionate about survivor support, mental health, and increasing access to health care and resources.