Complex Trauma Treatment with a Psychologist Melbourne


What is Complex Trauma?

Complex Trauma or Complex Post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a mental health condition that can emerge following exposure to repeated or prolonged traumatic experiences. Unlike in single incident PTSD, complex trauma involves multiple traumatic experiences, (for many people within childhood) and may involve:

What are the 6 clusters of symptoms of Complex Trauma?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a diagnostic category in the International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition, and consists of six symptom clusters.

These symptom clusters are:


1). Re-experiencing symptoms. These symptoms make you feel as though you are re-living the event and include flashbacks, nightmares, and painful memories. These symptoms are often accompanied by changes to our nervous system where we feel high levels of arousal, fear, distress etc. The symptoms themselves can also be highly distressing.

2). Avoidance. Avoidance symptoms include urges and/or efforts to avoid triggers of the traumatic memories, which can include external stimuli such as places, people, sensory information (smells, sounds etc) and environments, as well as internal stimuli such as the traumatic memories themselves and certain thought patterns. We may avoid triggering stimuli physically, though we also may escape through changes to our nervous system, such as via using dissociation where our mind detaches or disconnects from present internal or external experiences.

3). Hypervigilance. This means that one’s nervous system is prepared for something threatening to occur, even in the absence of anything threatening within the environment. This results in feelings of being hyperaware of one’s environment and/or oneself, as well as feelings of being on edge and unable to relax.

4). Emotional dysregulation. This symptom cluster involves difficulty identifying, understanding, and regulating emotional states. Compounding this may be heightened emotional sensitivity or reactivity where when triggered, emotions elevate very rapidly. Individuals may struggle with managing very specific emotional states and/or a whole range of emotions. In addition, individuals may turn to unhelpful or destructive ways to manage or escape painful emotions.

5). Interpersonal difficulties. Complex trauma can make relationships challenging. The trauma may have led to unhelpful beliefs about relationships such as that “others are unsafe,” or that “others will abandon me.” Individuals may unconsciously play out patterns related to their trauma within their relationships which can have the impact of sabotaging or undermining their connections to others.

6). Negative self-concept. Complex trauma impacts our sense of self and can lead to painful changes in our relationship with ourselves. For example, trauma can leave us with a profound sense of shame and self-loathing. We can feel inadequate, defective, or not good enough. The impact of these changes is pervasive and can flow through to our experience of mood, our capacity to function day to day, and our relationships with others.

How do our psychologists treat Complex Trauma?

At Cova Psychology, our approach balances drawing from evidenced based therapeutic techniques with tailoring these treatments to each individual’s experience and symptoms. For Complex Trauma we utilise a range of therapies two work through 3 recommended stages of treatment which include:

1) Safety and Stabilisation. This phase of treatment involves helping clients to stabilise their emotional states by increasing emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills. Clients may be equipped with a whole range of skills including relaxation, mindfulness, grounding, self-soothing, and skills for managing heightened emotion and experiences of dissociation.

2) Trauma processing. Often the skills learnt in safety and stabilisation are important components of the next phase, trauma processing. In this phase, clients target traumatic memories in therapy with a goal to reduce their emotional impact as well as shift unhelpful beliefs that may have been stored within the memory.

3) Re-integration. This phase involves assisting clients to achieve the goals and milestones that they have struggled to reach due to the experience of Complex PTSD. These may be goals related to work and vocation, reaction and leisure, socialising and relationships, or other major domains of life that have been impacted by the trauma.

A range of evidenced based therapies may be employed to work through these stages and these include:

Our experienced psychologists will collaboratively work with you to design a treatment plan, which may involve one or more of these therapies, based on your personal experiences, your history, and your needs.

If this page interested you and you’d like to learn more about Complex Trauma, see our detailed blog post about understanding complex trauma.