Complex trauma is described as being the result of:

“traumatic experiences involving multiple events with interpersonal  threats during childhood or adolescence.” (UK Trauma Council)

Their organisation’s role is specifically to improve the help and support provided for children and young people who have experienced complex trauma. These traumatic situations, often involving abuse and/or neglect, have the potential for causing long-lasting effects on all aspects of child development, often into adulthood.

Australia’s Blue Knot Foundation adds to this definition, explaining that adults can also experience complex trauma as the result of repeated traumatic experiences, even if they haven’t had traumatic occurrences during childhood.

So, whether the traumas occur during development, in adulthood, or both, the key factor that separates complex trauma from trauma, is the fact that it occurs repeatedly or consistently, often over an extended period.

The main symptoms of complex trauma are the same as the main ones experienced by people formally diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c.PTSD). The difference between these two terms is that c.PTSD is a formal diagnostic term listed in the ICD-11 (which is the official diagnostic manual used by medical professionals).

Trauma, as we know from reading that glossary entry, includes the traumatic event itself. Two out of three people don’t go on to experience PTSD or, perhaps more accurately, they don’t get a formal diagnosis. Complex trauma also includes the multiple events themselves, and carries the risk of it leading to multiple mental health conditions, including depression, low self-esteem and anxiety.

PTSD and c.PTSD, on the other hand, are diagnoses made on the basis of symptoms that occur after the event/situations. It is an acknowledgement that the chronic symptoms after the original trauma(s) are causing levels of distress that are affecting our ability to function in day-to-day life and that there may well be a need for therapy and/or medication in order to improve the chances of full recovery.

Trauma is a very broad term and the type of support and advice needed varies hugely. So here are a few starting points:

External websites:

Links to relevant glossary posts: