Complex PTSD and EMDR Therapy

complex PTSD and EMDR Therapy

Complex PTSD and EMDR therapy – who is it suitable for?

Trauma affects how we think about the world and other people. How we interpret what happens to us and what happens around us. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was traditionally seen as a condition experienced by those involved in a war or a natural disaster. But it is present in a wide range of people, especially those who have gone through a threat to their safety. In particular, developmental trauma linked to events in childhood can stay with someone well into adulthood. This affects every part of life’s activities. Multiple traumatic events can lead to complex PTSD (C-PTSD). On this page, we define C-PTSD in more detail, explain the signs and symptoms, and how to seek effective psychological treatment.

Understanding PTSD and EMDR Therapy

There are many types of trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the most well-known. Complex PTSD usually develops after someone has experienced repeated, prolonged exposure to stressful situations. Often, occurs within an environment that was supposed to provide protection. This can include physical harm as well as emotional trauma. It threatens a person’s feelings of control or personal power and identity.

The sense of unease is so overwhelming that everything becomes about survival. For example, neglected and abused children are in a no-win situation. Although an adult is supposed to take care of them, they are also being mistreated. As a result, the child’s sense of self is shattered. And this will change how the brain’s neural pathways develop.

Symptoms of complex PTSD

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and complex PTSD are similar. 

But complex PTSD comes with a wider range of difficulties. You go through extreme inner turmoil, and the symptoms last much longer. The signs don’t necessarily manifest all at once. They can appear gradually or be triggered later in life by stressful or upsetting experiences. Without treatment, C-PTSD lowers the chance of successful reintegration into life’s routines. 

When you have C-PTSD, typically you’ll experience devastating symptoms and related mental health conditions that include: 

Emotional detachment and dissociation

Identity disturbance (disruption to your sense of self)


Distrust and fear of intimacy

Struggling to regulate negative emotions


Having thoughts of shame or of being ‘bad’

Difficulty forming relationships

Low self-esteem

Socially withdrawn

Nightmares and trouble sleeping

Depression and anxiety

Flashbacks to memories of trauma

Alcohol and substance abuse 

Intense, overwhelming feelings of helplessness or horror

Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts

Becoming hyper-protective or hyper-vigilant (sensing danger all around)

Dissociation is a natural coping mechanism.

The patient’s feelings and memories become too much to bear, so they break off from them. As a result, they become emotionally shut off from their past, present and future. It’s like they’re living through a thick veil of fog. They may be aware that things should be different or better in their lives. But they are unable to interact with others and make positive strides towards improvement.

The consequences of this may include an inability to control violent or destructive impulses. C-PTSD is sometimes misdiagnosed as borderline personality disorder or generalised anxiety disorder. This means many people with C-PTSD remain undiagnosed and miss out on the ideal treatment.

How does EMDR therapy work?

Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is commonly used by clinical psychologists to treat conditions such as complex trauma and phobias. It’s a highly effective form of therapy that changes how you respond to past events. The brain stores traumatic experiences in a unique way. These negative episodes are imprinted in our memory as vivid perceptions. But our brain can also adapt trauma imprints if we are exposed to appropriate sensory interventions.

Helping patients to stay in the present moment through mindfulness techniques and talking therapy is an essential part of preparing to work with EMDR therapists. EMDR works by stimulating the brain through eye movement therapy or similar sensory stimuli. This aims to ‘unlock’ the trauma in your mind by examining the cause of your most pressing issues. The therapist acts like a ‘witness’ during EMDR sessions so you are not reliving anything distressing on your own. This enables you to process and find relief from disturbing memories and related feelings.

We support you to feel relaxed and safe, without needing to be ‘on guard’ for something dangerous you believe could happen. By making sense of your past in a positive and self-compassionate way, we help you come to terms with your negative thoughts. 

Am I a suitable candidate for EMDR therapy?

We use EMDR to treat many psychological problems, but it is more suitable for some individuals than others. This applies whether the therapy intends to address the original issue or to resolve problems that emerged later. 

Patients with C-PTSD may include survivors of:

Child neglect

Sexual assault

Child abuse


Persistent bullying

Kidnapping, cults and other forms of entrapment

Domestic violence

We understand that, for some people, the idea of seeing a therapist and talking about potentially uncomfortable things may sound off-putting. At the same time, it’s easy to see why someone who’s been traumatised might feel this is exactly what they need. To sit down with an objective professional who’ll guide them through difficult experiences without judging, blaming or shaming them.


Book a Consultation

If you are unsure if you or a loved one has complex PTSD, it’s important to consult a qualified mental health professional. Complex PTSD treatment by the qualified psychologists at Kove can: Help diagnose your symptoms, Provide a personalised treatment programme, Help you move forward with your life. 
If you are curious about EMDR therapy for C-PTSD and want to know more, please contact us.

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