Understanding PTSD: A Counsellor's Perspective


As we observe PTSD Awareness Month this June, I feel it is a good time to delve into the intricacies of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD (C-PTSD). 


These conditions can profoundly impact individuals, including those dealing with severe illnesses like cancer. As a counsellor in the UK, I’ve seen how vital it is to understand these disorders and how person-centred therapy can play a transformative role in recovery.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. 

This can include, but not limited to, natural disasters, serious accidents, terrorist acts, war/combat, or violent personal assaults. 


PTSD symptoms may include:

  • Intrusive memories: Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind them of the traumatic event.
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood: Feelings of hopelessness, emotional numbness, or difficulty maintaining close relationships.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions: Being easily startled, having difficulty sleeping, or experiencing intense irritability or anger.
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What is Complex PTSD?

Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) arises from prolonged or repeated exposure to trauma, particularly in situations where the individual feels trapped. 


Unlike PTSD, which can result from a single traumatic event, C-PTSD is often associated with ongoing trauma such as childhood abuse, domestic violence, or long-term medical treatment.


C-PTSD symptoms include those of PTSD along with:

  • Difficulty controlling emotions: Severe mood swings, persistent sadness, and feelings of hopelessness.
  • Negative self-view: Persistent feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Relationship difficulties: Problems maintaining close relationships, feeling detached from others.
  • Distorted perceptions of the perpetrator: Preoccupation with the relationship to the abuser.

Causes of PTSD and C-PTSD

Both PTSD and C-PTSD can result from various traumatic experiences:


  • Accidents and injuries: Car accidents, severe injuries, or life-threatening illnesses like cancer.
  • Violence and abuse: Physical assault, sexual assault, emotional abuse, or prolonged neglect.
  • War and conflict: Combat exposure, living in a war zone, or refugee experiences.
  • Medical trauma: Intensive medical treatments, especially those involving invasive procedures or prolonged hospital stays.
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How Person-Centred Therapy Can Help

Person-centred therapy (PCT), also known as client-centred therapy, is a non-directive form of talk therapy that was developed by Carl Rogers in the 1940s. 

This therapeutic approach is particularly effective for individuals with PTSD and C-PTSD because it focuses on the person’s own ability to heal and grow within a supportive and empathetic environment.

Key principles of person-centred therapy include:

  • Unconditional Positive Regard: Providing a non-judgemental, accepting environment where clients feel valued and understood. This helps to build trust and safety, which are crucial for trauma survivors.
  • Empathy: Therapists strive to understand the client’s experiences and emotions deeply. This empathetic connection helps clients feel heard and validated, promoting healing.
  • Congruence: Being genuine and transparent with clients fosters an authentic therapeutic relationship. This authenticity encourages clients to explore and express their true feelings.
  • Empowerment: person-centred therapy empowers clients by focusing on their strengths and capacities. It encourages them to take an active role in their healing process, fostering resilience and self-efficacy.


In my role as a therapist, I have seen how person-centred therapy can help patients dealing with PTSD or C-PTSD. 

By creating a safe, empathetic space, clients can explore their trauma, process their emotions, and gradually work towards recovery. 

The non-directive nature of person-centred therapy respects the individual’s pace and promotes self-discovery, making it a powerful approach for trauma therapy.


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During PTSD Awareness Month, it is essential to recognise the profound impact of PTSD and complex PTSD on individuals, including those facing severe medical conditions like cancer. 

Understanding these disorders and the therapeutic benefits of person-centred therapy can pave the way for effective support and healing.

If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD or C-PTSD, seeking professional help can be a crucial step towards recovery. 

Support is available, and with the right tools and care, it is possible to find a path to healing and resilience. 

Let’s use this awareness month to advocate for those who are silently battling these invisible burdens and to promote a more compassionate and informed approach to mental health care.

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