The term complex trauma refers to repeated exposure to traumatic stressors, often during childhood and in the context of an inadequate caregiving environment. These stressors can include neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, having to navigate the unpredictability of an alcoholic parent, or witnessing violence or frequent conflict between parents. Although the amazing resilience of humans might have allowed you to come out of these experiences as a capable and oftentimes overfunctioning adult, you might experience problems relating to others or find yourself in destructive relationships. You might struggle to manage your emotions and have sudden outbursts, or channel them into avoidance behaviours like overspending, using food as coping, or substance use. Many individuals who experienced complex trauma struggle with anxiety, depression, and/or problems regulating their emotions.
What to expect from treatment for complex trauma
More than any of the other areas, the interventions for complex trauma will depend on you. Complex trauma is not really suited to brief intervention, but you can start doing some of the groundwork on your emotions and develop skills to help you tackle this work. The therapeutic relationship is an important ingredient for change, which is why treatment for complex trauma takes longer, as it takes time to develop the trust needed to work with trauma (during which time we can be focusing on solving more of your immediate problems). When you feel ready, we explore your experiences in a safe and supported manner. We often discover unhelpful beliefs and how they might play out in your current functioning. We might identify unhelpful adaptations to the pain of trauma and find more helpful ways to manage intense emotions that can come up. Although your history will always be there, you can change your relationship to that story and build a life around it.