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PTSD vs. Complex PTSD: A Shamanic View

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

Early on in my career as a bodyworker, I saw a lot of PTSD right off the bat and it was something I was trained heavily to work with. PTSD is, like most things, typically presented in layers. The first layer is the traumatic event and then there are corresponding belief systems and cyclical reinforcement of those beliefs. There may also be a physical component, where the nervous system remains in a heightened state if the trauma remains unaddressed because your body stores the memory of the trauma. Treating this disorder was like a lasagna that I was proficient at deconstructing. Then, when I started approaching it shamanically, I saw the benefit of bringing in Soul Retrieval Ceremony, Shadow Work and Plant Ceremony.

More recently, I am getting a closer glimpse of Complex PTSD and want to share a side-by-side comparison. First, I created this awesome visual about those layers and it is very relevant when we are talking about the "single trauma PTSD":

When we are talking Complex PTSD, this whole thing looks quite a bit different. Imagine if you threw 20 more boxes on this couch and then wrapped them in a tangle of thorny rose bushes. I want to break this concept down a little for people who are either struggling with Complex PTSD or perhaps just want to understand what it's all about and how I see it.


By definition: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world. Shamanically, PTSD is a condition caused by soul loss/separation, something which I have discussed previously. Many people view PTSD as only resulting from of being a combat veteran or severe abuse survivor. While I have certainly seen it in such cases, I see it most with childhood trauma. Let's dive in to that definition a little so we can have a better understanding of who may actually be included in this category. What if disturbance of sleep doesn't mean horrific nightmares? What if it also means having trouble falling asleep, turning off the mind, staying asleep, or feeling rested upon waking. What if a dulled response to others and the outside world also means being generally withdrawn, dissociating or having social anxiety? And what if the constant recall of the experience is something that happens in more of a metaphorical sense - like we keep attracting abusive men into our life to mimic the abuse we received from our father?

Are we starting to see how many people this can encompass?

When I put my hands on someone I can see the impact of PTSD. I can see the nervous system lit up like a Christmas tree and how it affects every inch of the body and mind. In most cases, this is fairly simple to address if the person is in a position to dive in. In no specific order, we identify the trauma and belief systems and release the stored memories from the body. We work to deprogram those beliefs through fairly straight forward exercises designed to bring acknowledgement and acceptance to the traumatic event. We work with the body to show it that it is a safe through Cranioascral Therapy and assist it in releasing stored memories and emotions. Finally, we go back to the trauma to unpack it, calling back in the soul parts, often through some form of Shamanic Journeying.

Complex PTSD (CPTSD)

By definition: Complex PTSD is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as: difficulty controlling your emotions. feeling very hostile or distrustful towards the world.

So we have our trauma lasagna, only this time it's 50 lasagnas and they are all crammed on t