Post-traumatic Stress Disorder was defined in order to describe the symptoms of many Vietnam War veterans that were returning to the United States. Physically unharmed, many of these veterans were presenting with obvious disturbances that impacted their functioning. So, the APA scrambled and in 1980 Post-traumatic Stress Disorder made its debut. Though early on the Veteran’s Administration told Bessel van der Kolk that “It’s never been shown that PTSD is relevant to the mission of the Veterans Administration,” now they spend millions each year on the research and treatment of combat-related PTSD and “by far the largest group studied is male combat veterans”. Which is awesome. Veterans deserve the best treatment we can offer.
But what about the rest of us? Prior to the creation of the PTSD definition, a handful of studies had described symptoms that appeared in some people after a traumatic event, including combat, rape, a nightclub fire with a 50% mortality rate and natural disasters. Thing is, most trauma survivors aren’t combat veterans. Most trauma survivors experienced neglect or abuse from their caregivers and they have different symptoms and treatment needs than adult survivors of single-event trauma (p. 374). It’s becoming more and more clear that the “pure form” of PTSD is actually not representative of most trauma survivors and that many trauma survivors receive different diagnoses because the PTSD diagnosis does not fit them. Complex trauma still isn’t a diagnosis in the DSM, for a lot of different reasons—political issues, lack of uniformity in complex trauma cases, difficulty evaluating complex trauma and dissociation and most importantly, lack of funding to study complex trauma.
This week, I’ll be sharing about complex trauma—what is it and what’s important to know. As the name suggests, it is a complex topic, so I’m not even going to try to cram it into one entry. Here’s what you’ll see this week:
Sunday: the types of events that precipitate it
Wednesday: complex trauma symptoms and how to talk to professionals about them
Friday: treatment: what’s helpful and what can cause harm