Is complex PTSD different than post-traumatic stress disorder?

Photo of a uniformed service member reflected in shattered mirror

I deployed several times and witnessed terrible and life-threatening things each time. What is complex PTSD? Is it treated any differently than PTSD?


Complex PTSD is a controversial diagnosis that is still under consideration and study. Typically, complex PTSD is referring to when people have been through many traumas over their life and now the survivor is experiencing the symptoms of PTSD along with additional symptoms of difficulties with emotion regulation and dissociation. The good news is that the research conducted to date shows that the current PTSD treatments are very effective in reducing the symptoms of what may be called complex PTSD. Indeed, studies have shown that there is no advantage for preparatory treatment before Prolonged Exposure Therapy for those with complex PTSD.

Posted on BrainLine September 2, 2021. Reviewed September 2, 2021.

About the author: Sheila A.M. Rauch, PhD, ABPP

Sheila A.M. Rauch, PhD, ABPP, is the Deputy Director of the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program and Director of Mental Health Research and Program Evaluation at the VA Atlanta Healthcare System. Dr. Rauch has been developing programs, conducting research and providing PTSD and Anxiety Disorders treatment for over 20 years. Her research focuses on examination of mechanisms involved in the development and treatment of PTSD and improving access to effective interventions.

Professional headshot of Dr. Sheila Rauch smiling at the camera, wearing glasses in a royal blue top