Acera Health

CPTSD vs. PTSD: What are the Similarities & Differences

Reviewed by: Melody Stone
Sad male soldier on appointment with psychologist at office.

Understanding mental health conditions is crucial for those affected and their loved ones. Two terms that often come up in discussions about trauma-related mental health disorders are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). According to the National Center for PTSD, about 6% of the U.S. population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. Both PTSD and CPTSD result from traumatic experiences. Still, CPTSD typically arises from prolonged or repeated trauma over months or years, such as ongoing childhood abuse or long-term domestic violence. In contrast, PTSD often results from a single traumatic event like an accident, natural disaster, or a violent assault.

Although these conditions share core symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidance, and hyperarousal, they have distinct differences. CPTSD includes additional symptoms like severe emotional regulation difficulties, a negative self-perception, and chronic relationship problems. Recognizing these differences is vital for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. At Acera Health, a leading residential and outpatient mental health treatment center, we are dedicated to helping individuals understand and manage these conditions effectively. Our specialized programs aim to address the unique needs of those with PTSD and CPTSD, offering a comprehensive approach to recovery and well-being.

What is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 3.5% of adults in the United States suffer from PTSD annually, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. Traumatic events that may lead to PTSD include military combat, natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist attacks, or personal assaults such as rape.

The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating and significantly impact an individual’s daily life. These symptoms fall into several categories:

  • Intrusive Memories: These include recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  • Avoidance: Individuals may avoid places, activities, or people that remind them of the traumatic event.
  • Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood: This can manifest as persistent negative emotions, feelings of hopelessness, memory problems, and difficulty maintaining close relationships.
  • Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions: Symptoms include being easily startled or frightened, always being on guard for danger, self-destructive behavior, trouble sleeping, and irritability.


PTSD can impair an individual’s ability to work, socialize, and engage in everyday activities. In some cases, individuals might experience PTSD without flashbacks, primarily showing symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing instead. Understanding the diverse manifestations of PTSD is crucial for effective treatment and support.

What is CPTSD?

Complex PTSD (CPTSD) is a mental health condition that arises from prolonged or repeated trauma over months or years, rather than a single traumatic event.  CPTSD is recognized as a distinct disorder in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), highlighting its severity and the need for specialized treatment. CPTSD is often associated with experiences such as childhood abuse, domestic violence, or being trapped in a long-term abusive situation, which leads to a complex array of symptoms beyond those seen in PTSD.

The symptoms of CPTSD include all of those seen in PTSD, such as intrusive memories, avoidance, and hyperarousal, but there are additional, more severe symptoms:

  • Emotional Regulation Difficulties: Individuals with CPTSD often struggle with severe difficulties in managing emotions, which can lead to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or explosive anger.
  • Consciousness Disturbances: This includes feeling detached from oneself (dissociation), memory problems, and blackouts.
  • Negative Self-Perception: Deeply rooted feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness are common, with individuals often feeling permanently damaged or unworthy.
  • Difficulty with Relationships: Maintaining healthy relationships is challenging, often coupled with a persistent distrust of others.
  • Loss of a Sense of Meaning: Individuals may feel isolated, experience a sense of hopelessness, or suffer from a loss of meaning in life.


The impacts of CPTSD are profound and pervasive, affecting every aspect of an individual’s life, from their emotional and psychological well-being to their social interactions and overall functioning. Comprehensive treatment approaches are essential for managing CPTSD effectively. For those unsure about their symptoms, taking a Complex PTSD Quiz can be a helpful first step in seeking professional help.

Similarities Between PTSD and CPTSD

Both PTSD and CPTSD stem from traumatic experiences and share several core symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the Trauma: Both conditions involve reliving the traumatic event through intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  • Avoidance: Individuals with both conditions tend to avoid reminders of the traumatic event, whether it’s people, places, or activities.
  • Hyperarousal: Both PTSD and CPTSD cause heightened states of arousal, leading to symptoms such as being easily startled, irritability, and difficulty sleeping.


Despite these similarities, the complexities and additional layers of symptoms in CPTSD necessitate different approaches to treatment and care.

Differences Between PTSD and CPTSD

While PTSD and CPTSD share some symptoms, the differences are significant and important to recognize:

  • Nature and Duration of Trauma: PTSD usually results from a single traumatic event, while CPTSD stems from prolonged, repeated trauma, often starting in childhood.
  • Symptom Complexity: CPTSD includes all the symptoms of PTSD, but adds more severe symptoms like emotional regulation difficulties, negative self-perception, and chronic relationship issues.
  • Impact on Identity: CPTSD can cause a more profound disruption in a person’s sense of identity and self-worth, often leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness that are not as commonly seen in PTSD.


These differences highlight the need for tailored treatment approaches for each condition. Understanding whether PTSD is neurodivergent can also aid in grasping the full spectrum of its impact on an individual’s life.

Treatment Approaches at Acera Health

At Acera Health, we offer specialized treatment programs for both PTSD and CPTSD, recognizing the unique needs of individuals with these conditions. Our comprehensive treatment plans include a combination of therapies and interventions designed to address the full spectrum of symptoms and promote holistic healing.

Residential Treatment Program

For those who require intensive support, our residential treatment program provides a safe and structured environment where individuals can focus on their recovery. This program includes:

  • Individual Therapy: One-on-one sessions with a licensed therapist to explore the root causes of trauma and develop coping strategies.
  • Group Therapy: Supportive group sessions where individuals can share experiences and learn from others facing similar challenges.
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT): A specific type of CBT that helps individuals process and reframe their traumatic experiences.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): A therapeutic approach that helps reduce the distress associated with traumatic memories.
  • Medication Management: When appropriate, medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances.
  • Holistic Therapies: Incorporating yoga, meditation, art therapy, and other holistic approaches to promote overall well-being.

Outpatient Treatment Program

Our outpatient treatment program offers flexibility for individuals who do not require 24/7 care but still need regular support. This program includes many of the same therapeutic approaches as our residential program, but allows individuals to continue their daily responsibilities while receiving treatment.

Specialized Trauma Therapy

Understanding that each person’s experience with trauma is unique, we offer specialized trauma therapy that can be tailored to the specific needs of the individual. This includes:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Particularly effective for individuals with emotional regulation difficulties, DBT helps in developing coping skills and emotional resilience.
  • Narrative Therapy: Encouraging individuals to re-author their life stories, helping them to find meaning and empowerment in their experiences.
  • Somatic Experiencing: A body-focused therapy that helps release trauma stored in the body and restore a sense of safety and stability.


One of the critical aspects to understand about PTSD and CPTSD is their impact on the nervous system. Trauma can cause the nervous system to become overactive, leading to chronic stress, anxiety, and physical health issues. The continuous state of hyperarousal affects the body’s ability to relax, sleep, and function normally. Therapy at Acera Health aims to help individuals retrain their nervous systems, fostering a sense of safety and calm.

Why Choose Acera Health?

Choosing the right treatment center is crucial for effective recovery from PTSD and CPTSD. At Acera Health, we are committed to providing the highest quality care with a compassionate and understanding approach. Here are a few reasons why individuals choose us:

  • Expertise: Our team of licensed therapists, psychiatrists, and support staff have extensive experience in treating trauma-related conditions.
  • Personalized Care: We understand that each individual’s journey is unique, and we tailor our treatment plans to meet their specific needs and goals.
  • Comprehensive Services: From residential to outpatient care, we offer a full spectrum of services to support individuals at every stage of their recovery.
  • Holistic Approach: We believe in treating the whole person, not just the symptoms, and incorporate a variety of holistic therapies to promote overall well-being.
  • Supportive Environment: Our safe and nurturing environment allows individuals to focus on their recovery without the distractions and stresses of everyday life.


Understanding the similarities and differences between PTSD and CPTSD is the first step in finding the right treatment. At Acera Health, we are dedicated to helping individuals overcome the challenges of these conditions and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD or CPTSD, contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive treatment programs and how we can help you on your journey to healing and recovery.

Clinically Reviewed by:

ptsd | melody 1

Melody Stone, LMFT

Melody Stone is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has over 17 years of experience in the field of behavioral health. She works as the Chief Clincal Officer (CCO) to Acera Health, where she is a strong leader focused on sustainable success.

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