Complex PTSD and Inpatient Treatment

Most people are aware of the condition known as PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common disorder in the mental health world, and individuals receive this diagnosis for a variety of reasons.

However, another level of PTSD exists as a diagnosis, and many people are not aware of its existence. This condition is called Complex PTSD, making life extremely difficult for its victims.

People with Complex PTSD have suffered from ongoing and repeated abuse for an extended period. The trauma has set up a pattern of emotional and physical avoidance that makes it difficult for these individuals to function well.

Complex PTSD has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, self-harming behaviors, and suicide attempts. At the Exclusive Hawaii Rehab we treat Complex PTSD through wide ranging and holistic practices that are customized for each client based on their input.

What Is Complex PTSD or C-PTSD?

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is commonly known as “Complex PTSD” or “Disorder.” It was first identified in 1994 by Judith Herman in her book entitled ‘Trauma & Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror.’

The term Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) was first used by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk in his book entitled ‘Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience On Mind, Body And Society.’

Complex PTSD is a severe mental health condition that develops due to ongoing exposure to traumatic events. It is also known as “Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (C-PTSD) or “Disorders of Extreme Stress Not Otherwise Specified” (DESNOS).

This disorder is estimated to affect up to 7% of the population worldwide. Complex PTSD can develop after experiencing any trauma. Still, it most commonly occurs in those who have been abused or mistreated over a long period in childhood, such as survivors of domestic violence, neglect, and emotional abuse.

Complex PTSD is a result of the body’s natural response to trauma, which can be caused by many different types of experiences, including:

  • Serious accidents
  • War and combat experiences
  • Physical assault or rape
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis

Domestic violence is another common cause of C-PTSD. Usually, this subset of PTSD is reserved for individuals who have experienced incredibly violent forms of trauma for a significant time.

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How Is Complex Trauma Different from Other Forms of Trauma?


Complex PTSD is a subset of PTSD characterized by trauma symptoms that are more severe and chronic. This form of PTSD is often seen in individuals who have been abused as children, such as survivors of childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect.

The effects of this type of trauma can be very damaging and long-lasting, often causing problems in relationships, employment, and social settings. Complex PTSD can affect people who have experienced:

  • Sexual abuse or assault
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Bullying or harassment at school or work
  • Domestic violence

There are three main types of complex PTSD:

  • Developmental trauma disorder: This type of complex PTSD is caused by early childhood abuse and neglect, including emotional abuse and emotional neglect (being ignored).
  • Relational trauma disorder: This type of complex PTSD is caused by interpersonal trauma such as rape, domestic violence, and incest.
  • Social role dysfunction: This type results from chronic bullying, discrimination, or other forms of social exclusion that begin in adolescence or adulthood (such as being bullied at school).

Many argue that because C-PTSD is so traumatic and life-altering, it leads to changes in the brain’s chemistry. Many of the events leading to C-PTSD certainly do cause a significant amount of shock, so it’s not far-fetched to believe the brain is thrown off permanently.

Does C-PTSD Affect Your Brain Chemistry?

It’s not uncommon for things like rape, severe physical abuse, war, and other traumatic experiences to change the mind and body’s response to triggers forever. This is a direct result of a change in brain chemistry.

When the body goes through events such as the ones mentioned above, when a large amount of pain or even death is imminent, the mind does certain things to protect itself from permanent damage. In some cases, it even shuts down, which explains the form of shock after traumatizing ordeals.

Individuals who experience these events can sometimes go days or even weeks without speaking. Once they begin returning to normal, it takes hours of counseling to process what they went through finally.

In the most challenging situations, victims won’t even process the event at all and can develop what’s almost like amnesia regarding the events of the trauma. Although this is a safety mechanism, it’s only made to take place for a short time. The altering of the brain’s landscape and chemistry leads to this condition on a more long-term basis.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors for C-PTSD?

In the sections above, we briefly mentioned some of the specific events that led to C-PTSD. What are some other characteristics and events that make someone high risk for this disorder?

History of Mental Health Challenges in the Family

Although PTSD is not thought to be a genetic disease, and there is no predetermined marker to highlight risk, a history of mental health challenges in someone’s family could make them high risk. Growing up, we tend to mimic the things we see, including how our parents cope with things.

This is an example of learned behavior – which proves it’s not tied to genetics. However, these behaviors are often deeply rooted in thoughts and memories buried so deep that it can be challenging to deal with them.

The good news is that because the behavior was learned over time, therapy can help clients replace it with a more positive coping mechanism. Different types of behavioral treatments and other avenues of treatment can help these clients return to a healthy standard of living and help balance the brain.

Repeated and Prolonged Periods of Abuse

One thing that makes C-PTSD so challenging is that it’s a result of sustained periods of abuse. The mind is a resilient part of our body and can make it through some powerful events. It takes quite a bit of damage for the most mentally strong people to begin shattering the mind.

When it finally takes place, it isn’t easy to repair. Additionally, when people deal with long-term abuse from a loved one or spouse, they develop a different bond or dynamic with that person. Many people begin to feel like the way the abuser shows them love is through the abuse.

This further complicates the situation and makes said relationships challenging to dissolve, but the abused individual has a tough time harvesting normal relationships in the future. They become unable to decipher what real love and abuse are and often search for another abusive relationship.

Continuing to relate abuse with love is a prime example of the trauma experienced altering the brain’s chemistry. Again, these alterations can be repaired with certain types of treatment, allowing the client to return to a standard way of living.

Specific events that cause C-PTSD include:


Going through a war experience for a significant period or ending up in a frightening situation for hours or days will lead to C-PTSD. Participating in consecutive tours and constant fighting will also trigger this condition.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is a typical example of a situation that will fracture the mind. A large percentage of clients suffer from C-PTSD at some point, whether during childhood or adulthood.


Most people wouldn’t consider discrimination a trigger of C-PTSD but consider the following scenario. Imagine you’re an employee at a company. You’re supposed to be able to trust the people you work with to handle themselves professionally. This is an environment you count on to produce a conducive atmosphere to allow you to feed your family.

Suddenly, for some reason or another, you’re judged, made fun of, verbally abused, and humiliated by nearly everyone you work with, including your boss. A place that once provided comfort and security does a complete 180; there’s no enforcement arm to help rectify the situation.

The trust issues this would cause and the embarrassment, pain, and suffering would be enough to cause a complex problem in someone mentally. It is not uncommon to hear stories of older adults who lived through the segregation period and racial tensions of the 50s and 60s to develop deep, psychological scars.

And it is not a stretch to say that these events could cause changes in the brain that require therapy.

Currently, the issue lies with how to solve these challenges and the types of treatment included in a client’s plan.

Repeated and Prolonged Periods of Abuse

How Is Complex PTSD Treated at a Holistic Rehab?

A holistic rehab provides one of the best environments for healing from C-PTSD. The traditional methods are available to clients, and most likely, some form of cognitive or other behavioral therapy is prescribed.

Behavior replacement therapy, exposure therapy, and other psychological treatment methods are effective, depending on the client. Each treatment plan is 100% custom and tailor-made to meet each client’s specific needs for healing.

The holistic portion arguably provides a treatment equally as beneficial as traditional methods. Things like ocean therapy, recreation therapy, and different forms of art therapy can offer significant benefits to C-PTSD.

Equine therapy and other treatments working with animals have produced some promising results. Again, this is all dependent on what the client responds to the most favorably.

There is no cookie-cutter form of treatment or playbook at a holistic rehab. This makes them unique and stands out from the regular rehab facilities.

Counselors will work closely with clients, determining the best options to move forward as a team. No decisions are made before the client arrives for treatment. The first face-to-face contact with each client is essential for getting a feel for the most effective route moving forward.

Who Benefits from Complex PTSD Inpatient Treatment?

Naturally, the client stands to receive the most significant number of benefits from C-PTSD treatment at holistic inpatient treatment. However, the entire situation is like a wheel, providing benefits to everyone involved.

Each client’s family stands to benefit nearly as much as the client. Having a loved one return to a more positive state of mind and maintain their sense of self is a tremendous gift. If you have never dealt with someone who suffered from a mental health breakdown and nearly lost themselves, it’s a difficult situation to understand.

However, the relief experienced when the person finally receives effective treatment is unmatched. The staff and counselors benefit as well.

Their benefits are experienced by understanding how they’ve helped someone overcome one of the biggest obstacles they’ll ever face. Additionally, the more frequently mental health professionals treat these cases using a holistic approach, the more they learn and add to their arsenal of evidence-backed research.

Maintaining this type of data allows professionals in the mental health industry to break down and examine case studies to make future advancements and provide better care.

Experience True Healing

Our deeply-caring staff and the surrounding natural beauty offer an unparalleled healing experience.

Do Addictive Behaviors Accompany Complex PTSD?

Addictive behaviors are common for individuals who have complex PTSD. These would exist as a direct result of the disorder, if nothing else, and the addiction transpired as a way of escaping the terrible images burned into their minds.

However, having a predisposition for addiction is a different situation altogether. Individuals with this classification may require more extensive dual diagnosis treatment.

Lasting Recovery from Complex PTSD Is Possible at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

At Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we understand how difficult life with Complex PTSD can be. We want you to know we’ve got your back every step.

You do not have to participate in dead-end treatment that doesn’t work for you, and we only move forward with therapeutic approaches that you approve. This allows us to work together to help you achieve long-term recovery and prepare for life after treatment.

By the time you part ways with us, you will be much better prepared to take on the most challenging elements of PTSD with courage and a positive attitude. To find out more about reserving a spot, contact a member of our Intake Coordination staff today.