Finding the right therapist for complex PTSD or dissociation

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I want to rectify that by sharing a recent experience I had with a couple of colleagues. I wanted to pass on a lesson from that for those seeking treatment.

We were consulting on cases and I mentioned Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which is on the extreme end of PTSD and trauma spectrum of disorders. When I did so, two of the other therapists expressed skepticism as to whether that disorder existed–whether it was legitimate. I was taken aback, both therapists present had experience treating PTSD. I didn’t understand it. Afterward I kept thinking about it for a few days, until I realized what had happened.

While the other therapists had experience treating trauma, they had mostly treated veterans and first responders. Typically those populations have had trauma as adults. This is what I call “simple” PTSD, or “garden-variety” PTSD. Folks who have had trauma primarily or exclusively as adults are much less likely to suffer from dissociation, or ‘checking out’ when they get triggered. Folks who have had childhood abuse and trauma, especially those with multiple experiences, are much more likely to dissociate. They are also much more likely to have attachment disorders as well. For a page dedicated to describing complex PTSD and dissociation click here.

Unlike the typical PTSD we might think of, which is experiencing a traumatic experience as an adult and not being able to ‘get over it’ as the months and years pass, complex PTSD is something of a different animal. While there are many therapies that can treat “garden-variety” PTSD, it takes specialized training and experience to completely heal the effects of complex PTSD. This is training that I have, and they didn’t.

These therapists didn’t have much experience with a client having any dissociation, let alone having to treat it as part of someone’s trauma. They were skeptical because they didn’t know what I was talking about. They simply didn’t know what they didn’t know. They wouldn’t know how to heal attachment wounds, which so often accompany prolonged childhood abuse. I shouldn’t expect therapists who don’t work with dissociation or childhood trauma to be able to understand or validate the extreme end of a trauma disorder. Neither should you, as a client.

As a potential client seeking a professional for your childhood trauma or abuse, find a therapist who is trained to treat complex/developmental PTSD, and knows how to diagnose and deal with dissociation in case it is present. Why? Because to many therapists, working with dissociation can be scary, it’s not something most therapists are trained to treat. Ask them if they have experience and training treating complex or developmental PTSD. A truly competent professional will be able to explain what kind of therapy they use to treat it such as EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor Therapy, Internal Family Systems, Ego State therapy, etc. I talk about my background and training on my About Me page. Complex PTSD can be healed! Dissociation can be healed! Attachment injuries can be healed!

The Psychology Today website has the largest directory of therapists in the US, it can be a good resource. If you suspect you may have complex PTSD or dissociation, finding  a therapist certified by a legitimate national or international association is a great first step. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies has a directory of professionals they have certified, I am including the link here.  I am obviously partial to EMDR, here is a link to find a qualified practitioner. If no one is nearby, remember that in a post-COVID world it’s very possible to find a great clinician that will do work virtually with you.

If you have a concern you have complex PTSD or dissociation and wonder who can help you, find a qualified therapist. What you experience is very treatable. If you feel uncomfortable seeking a therapist, I highly recommend reading through this book as a way to understand your dissociation and how to cope.

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