Complex Trauma


Complex trauma differs from trauma that results from a single incident or shocking event. It often occurs when individuals have endured multiple or chronic traumatic stressors, as in the case in physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or combat experience. Complex trauma can also result from the cumulative stress of multiple traumatic experiences throughout one’s life. 

The nature of complex trauma is that it undermines the individual’s ability to cope and self-regulate because each traumatic experience brings back the pain of prior experiences. Repeated overwhelming experiences can alter one’s self concept and lead to feelings of shame and worthlessness, self-destructive behaviour, difficulties in relationships and unbearable emotional states.

How can counselling help?

Counselling can facilitate those who struggle with complex trauma to process their experiences in a space where they will be heard and validated. Self-regulation is a tool that is often taught to help clients be aware of and modulate their own levels of arousal and anxiety in order to restore balance in the nervous system. Attachment wounds related to repeated trauma can also be healed and healthier means of coping and related to oneself and others are introduced. 


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking. 

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