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?



“I have attended one of your workshops for Health Professionals and found it to be one of the most enlightening and useful trainings I have attended. In particular, I really got an understanding of how to best deal with people in crisis related to past trauma.”


“The workshop was outstanding - could be used for all practitioners no matter what their discipline. I would hope that you would promote it among psychologists - particularly because the focus was on "abuse" without putting the various types of abuse into boxes.”


“I recommend Blue Knot Foundation's trauma training to every professional, worker of all setting, survivor, and carer. The better trained the earlier the diagnosis and a better chance for survivor recovery.”


“I would highly recommend Blue Knot Foundation training. The information and research is impressive and relevant; the facilitator knew her stuff, was engaging and provided relevant examples.”


Complex Trauma Treatment

Complex trauma is different to the trauma of a single incident. Single incident trauma is associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Survivors of complex trauma may experience PTSD and are at increased risk of PTSD. Yet the impacts of complex trauma are more extensive and debilitating than those of PTSD alone. 

People with complex trauma often develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C –PTSD). This is to be included in the upcoming ICD11. The new diagnosis clarifies the differences in impacts between PTSD and C-PTSD.  Differences in treatment have already been recommended (Courtois & Ford, 2009; van der Kolk, 2003). 

What is complex trauma treatment? 

`[T]here is no one perfect trauma therapy’ (Shapiro, 2010:1). The core features of complex trauma treatment reflect clinical and neurobiological insights, including the role of the body. They have been informed by psychodynamic work (Howell and Itzkowitz, 2016), somatic (body-based) work (Rothschild, 2017; Levine, 2011; 2015; Fisher and Ogden, 2015), an understanding of trauma-based dissociation (van der Hart et al., 2016) and mindfulness and Eastern principles (Briere and Scott, 2012). Advances in technology support many previous theories. Relevant investigations include Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI), blood tests and Positron Emission Tomography (PET scans). 

Practice based evidence also informs treatment. This considers client and therapist input in treatment effectiveness (Green & Latchford, 2012; Barkham & Hardy, 2010; Duncan, Miller et al, 2010). Common factors research is also important. It establishes that a combination of factors contribute to effective treatment. Factors include the importance of the therapeutic alliance and the relational context of therapy. Complex trauma treatment needs to be relational, regardless of the modality/ies used.

It is widely recommended that effective complex trauma therapy should be `bottom up’ and `top down’. This engages physiological and somatic (body-based) approaches, affective (emotions) and cognitive (mind) approaches (Ogden, 2006; van der Kolk, 2010; Fosha, 2003). Complex trauma disrupts different aspects of a person, and their connections. The aim is to foster connections between these different aspects (Cozolino, 2006; Ogden, 2006; Siegel, 1999). It is also to re-integrate (reconnect) emotions, sensations, awareness and thoughts:`[i]t is important to be able to engage the relevant neurobiological processes’(Fosha, 2003:229); `[e]ffective therapy for trauma involves the facilitation of neural integration’ (Solomon & Siegel, 2003:xviii). Body-based approaches e.g. trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness can help the body and mind reconnect.


With a practitioner:

Several key international bodies (ISSTD, 2011; ACPTMH, 2007; APA Div.56) and 84% of clinicians expert in treating complex PTSD or PTSD endorsed a phased approach to treatment (Cloitre et al., 2011). 

Three phases are recommended (Cloitre et al, 2011):

  • Stabilisation, resourcing and self-regulation
  • Processing of traumatic memories
  • Consolidation of treatment gains 

The first phase (safety and stabilisation) is central and foundational. It is the focus of treatment before phases 2 and 3 (Courtois and Ford, 2013; Blue Knot Foundation (ASCA), 2012). It is important to note that these phases are not linear. Safety needs to be established time and again. 

People affected by complex trauma often find it difficult to regulate their levels of arousal, emotions and behaviour. They often also find it difficult to reflect. Trying to mediate thoughts before learning to self-regulate can be re-traumatising. Studies show that people in treatment for complex trauma `may react adversely to current, standard PTSD treatments, and that effective treatment needs to focus on self-regulatory deficits rather than `processing the trauma’ (van der Kolk, 2003:173). 

Most people with complex trauma have severe dissociative symptoms. Patients `with significant dissociative symptoms...respond less well to standard exposure-based psychotherapy and better to treatments that assist them with self-stabilization as well’ (Spiegel, 2018: 4). 

 On average, this treatment is longer-term than that for less complex clinical presentations. For some clients, treatment may last for decades, whether provided continuously or episodically. For others, treatment may be quite delimited, but it rarely can be meaningful if completed in less than 10-20 sessions. Even therapeutic modalities that are designed to be completed within 20-30 sessions may require more sessions or repetitions of `cycles’, or episodes, of the intervention. Obviously, goals and duration of treatment should be geared to the client’s ability, motivation, and resources. When they are limited, interventions are directed toward safety, support, education, specific skills and, in some cases, psychosocial rehabilitation and case management (Courtois et al, 2009:96).  Some people may need treatment on and off over their lifetime (Loewensten et al, 2014; Cloitre et al, 2011). 

 In a group:

Therapeutic groups can also benefit complex trauma survivors. It is important to carefully screen participants for a group that matches their stage of treatment. Screening and expert trauma-informed facilitation are important. Such groups can foster safety and self-understanding. They can also help reduce isolation, shame and related cognitive distortions (i.e. things we believe which aren’t accurate). 

With other survivors:

Peer (from other survivors) support can also be very important. Peers can apply an understanding of their own experiences to promote safety, build on strengths, empower recovery and build hope, optimism and support for healing. Trauma-informed peer support fosters a shared understanding of trauma experiences, coping strategies, recovery and mutual support. It fosters healing relationships, which negate the power and control of traditional services (Mead, 2008). It is important for ‘peers’ to be secure in their own recovery including knowing and managing their triggers and trauma reactions. 

Each survivor is an individual with a unique history. Survivors have different needs and wants. There are many different supports and approaches people find helpful, beyond what is included here.


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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

For media comment, please contact:
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+61 425 812 197
+61 2 8920 3611
or ckezelman@blueknot.org.au

For media enquiries, please contact: 
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+61 457 725 953 
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