CPTSD Therapy

CPTSD Treatment for Adults

Therapy for Adults Suffering from CPTSD

To properly address therapy for CPTSD in adults, it’s important to think of the symptoms, not as a “disease,” but as an understandable set of responses to “highly adverse events” that have interrupted normal developmental processes (Courtois, 2009).

CPTSD, then, is a sort of “adaptation” to a highly stressful, dysfunctional, traumatic environment. Unfortunately, this adaptation can cause the victim to be dysfunctional in the “normally-functioning” outside world, even as an adult, after the traumatic experiences are over.

The goals for treating CPTSD are focused on re-adapting patients, guiding them through the developmental processes that were interrupted during childhood. The goals include:

  • Building skills for controlling emotions
  • Improving self-control and self-expression
  • Developing skills for creating secure attachments (healthy relationships)
  • Strengthening the ability to make sense of one’s own emotions
  • Gaining control over memories and the remembering process (reducing sudden flashbacks)
  • Improving physical health

To achieve these goals, treatment is generally divided into three phases: (Herman, 1997)

  1. Safety and Stabilization
  2. Processing and Traumatic Memories
  3. Reintegration

Safety & and Stabilization

As with treating children, the first step in treatment of adults with CPTSD is to ensure their physical and emotional safety, as much as possible. Treatment won’t be possible if the patient is still experiencing dangerous or highly stressful situations.

Next, treatment aims to help the patient navigate their stress, and confront stressful situations without excessive “fight or flight” responses.

Finally, treatment should teach patients to take control over emotional states, rather than avoiding, seeking emotional numbing, or ding self-harm to cope with emotions. Treatment should also seek to improve the patient’s sense of self and their ability to form positive relationships.

Related Reading on Treatments

Child Treatment

Processing Traumatic Memories

Treatment of CPTSD creates a safe venue for victims to disclose and explore their traumatic memories, and to gradually create an “autobiographical narrative” in order to understand their traumas.


This phase is about reconnecting with community and society. It can involve continued work on the skills from the previous phases, especially work on developing trustworthy relationships, parenting, career decisions, and confronting negative relationships past and present.

For anyone being treated for CPTSD, it;s important to understand that treatment is by no means a simple process, and treatment methods are not one-size-fits-all. Just as each individual’s trauma symptoms are different and highly complex, treatments must always be tailored to the individual. There are many different treatment methods that are suggested for people with CPTSD, such as:

  • Experiential and Emotion Focused Therapy
  • Internal Family Systems Therapy
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Pyschodynamic Therapy
  • Family Systems Therapy
  • Group Therapy

As far as duration of treatment, it’s impossible to give a specific number. Treatment can take years or even decades. CPTSD is not simply a condition that eventually goes away; it is a set of personality patterns and emotional tendencies that must be adjusted through attentive work over time in order to improve patients’ lives.


Courtois, Christine A., and Julian D. Ford. Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders: An Evidence-based Guide. New York: Guilford, 2009. Print.

Herman, Judith Lewis. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1997. Print.