If you have experienced childhood trauma, you can speak with a Blue Knot Helpline trauma counsellor including for support and applications around national redress

1300 657 380
Monday - Sunday
between 9am - 5pm AEST
or via email helpline@blueknot.org.au


Do you live with disability?  Have you experienced abuse, neglect, violence or exploitation?

For support for Disability Royal Commission or general support contact our National Counselling & Referral Service

1800 421 468
9am - 6pm AEST Mon- Fri
9am - 5pm AEST Sat, Sun & public holidays


What is complex trauma?


What is complex trauma?

What is Complex Trauma/

Most people with trauma-related problems have experienced multiple traumas. The term, complex trauma describes exposure to multiple traumas. It also refers to the impacts of that exposure.

 Complex trauma: 

·         is usually interpersonal i.e. occurs between people

·         involves ‘being or feeling’ trapped

·         is often planned, extreme, ongoing and/or repeated

·         often has more severe, persistent and cumulative impacts

·         involves challenges with shame, trust, self-esteem, identity and regulating emotions.

·         has different coping strategies. These include alcohol and drug use, self-harm, over- or under-eating, over-work etc.

·         affects emotional and physical health, wellbeing, relationships and daily functioning

How does complex trauma differ from single incident trauma?

Difference between PTSD and Complex Trauma

Single incident trauma occurs with `one off’ events. It is commonly associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Single incident trauma can occur from a bushfire, flood, sexual or physical assault in adulthood, or from fighting in a war. 

Can people recover from complex trauma?

Can people recover from Complex Trauma?

Research and survivors’ stories both show that people can recover from complex trauma. They need to receive the right help and support to heal. When parents have worked through their trauma their children do better too. Part of this process includes acknowledging survivors’ strength and resilience in surviving, and possibilities for recovery. It is also important to hold a sense of hope and optimism that life can and often does get better. 

In what situations does complex trauma occur? 

Complex trauma commonly occurs with repeated trauma against a child. Sometimes a parent or caregiver has experienced their own trauma, which is still affecting them e.g. from mental illness, drugs and alcohol misuse, or being physically or emotionally unavailable. Many situations can cause complex trauma in childhood. 

Complex childhood trauma can be especially damaging. This is not always the case. This includes all forms of child abuse, neglect, adverse childhood experiences, community violence – domestic and family violence, civil unrest, war trauma or genocide, cultural dislocation, sexual exploitation and trafficking.  

Complex trauma is not always the result of childhood trauma. It can also occur as a result of adults’ experience of violence in the community e.g. domestic and family violence, civil unrest, war trauma or genocide, refugee and asylum seeker trauma, sexual exploitation and trafficking, extreme medical trauma and/or re-traumatisation

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress DIsorder

 While the concept of complex trauma is long-standing, neither the DSM (US manual of mental health disorders) nor ICD (global classification of mental health disorders) has included it. This is about to change. The diagnosis of Complex PTSD to describe enduring complex trauma will be included in the upcoming ICD 11. This is important as the treatment of complex PTSD is different to that of PTSD alone. See complex trauma treatment here.

To read complex trauma information in Blue Knot Practice Guidelines for Treatment of Complex Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care and Service Delivery, click here.

To find about training for working with complex trauma clients, click here

For resources on Complex Trauma click here

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Health Direct


Head to Health


“Blue Knot Foundation has a key role to play in the building of community capacity in care provision to those who have experienced childhood abuse and trauma in any environment.”

NIALL MULLIGAN Manager, Lifeline Northern Rivers

“I think Blue Knot Foundation is a fantastic support organisation for people who have experienced childhood trauma/abuse, for their families/close friends and for professionals who would like to learn how to more effectively work with these people.”

Psychologist Melbourne

“It's such a beautiful thing that you are doing. Helping people to get through this.”


“It was only last September when I discovered the Blue Knot Foundation website and I will never forget the feeling of support and empathy that I received when I finally made the first phone call to Blue Knot Helpline, which was also the first time I had ever spoken about my abuse.”


"At last there is some sound education and empathetic support for individuals and partners impacted by such gross boundary violations.”


Contact Us

Phone: 02 8920 3611
PO Box 597 Milsons Point NSW 1565
Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm AEST

Blue Knot Helpline
Phone: 1300 657 380
Email: helpline@blueknot.org.au 
Hours: Mon-Sun, 9am-5pm AEST

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