mental health, therapy, counseling and psychology terms glossary

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma is the exposure to multiple (often related) traumatic events, such as ongoing abuse, neglect, or prolonged exposure to situations where there is a lack of safety and security. It is the repetitive and collective nature of these occurrences that create “complex” trauma. This often occurs during critical periods of development in childhood, which can disrupt an individual’s identity, sense of self-worth, and ability to regulate their emotions – and also can create higher levels of dissociation. 

People often have heard of the “onion” analogy, and we find that to be very true, that there are often “layers” and defenses that have been created over a lifetime to protect that individual. When exposed to these traumas, the brain uses replay and simulation to create adaptive strategies to survive these overwhelming experiences and ensure that it never happens again. These strategies continue long after the traumatic events have ended as our brain cannot tell the difference between then and now.

The impact of complex trauma is profound and can affect nearly every aspect of an individual’s life, including emotional well-being, relationships, physical health, and the ability to function in everyday activities. This may also lead to long-term difficulties such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

How to Treat Complex Trauma

Research shows that using EMDR is a very effective way of treating complex trauma by helping someone rewire their neural pathways and rewrite their story.

At Claibourne Counseling, we specialize in treating Trauma & PTSD!