Skip to main content

Understanding psychotrauma

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop following exposure to a traumatic event.

Its diagnosis, recognized in the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and Psychiatric Disorders) and the ICD 11 (Eleventh Revision of the International Classification of Diseases), is defined by specific criteria evolving for more than one month after the event.

PTSD is mainly based on 3 categories of symptoms.


Reliving the traumatic experience: intrusive memories of the event, nightmares, flashbacks, etc.


Avoidance of cues that are suggestive of the traumatic experience: avoidance of thoughts, feelings, places, people, activities, etc. that may remind one of the event.


Persistent perception of a current threat: hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, difficulty concentrating, irritability, etc.

PTSD alters the social, family and professional functioning of the individuals it affects, plunging them, in many ways, into often disabling difficulties. Their quality of life, as well as that of those around them, is greatly diminished with devastating consequences on an individual level: stress, drop in self-esteem, development of a resignation mentality, etc.

What is complex post-traumatic stress disorder?

When a traumatic event lasts for a long time or is repeated without the person being able to escape or protect him or herself, as is the case with sexual violence and abuse in childhood, harassment at school, violence in a relationship, when the person is in a state of dependency or addiction, or in war and torture, a second form of post-traumatic stress disorder can occur, called complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPSD).

According to ICD 11, in addition to the symptoms of PTSD, the person with complex PTSD has sustained and pervasive impairment in emotional, personal, and relational functioning.

This alteration results in:

Difficulties in regulating emotions; negative self-beliefs ("I suck∙le," "I'm worthless"), which are themselves associated with emotions such as shame or guilt; disruptions in relationships with others that prevent building lasting relationships.

He is even particularly vulnerable in that his level of emotional maturity is not sufficient to allow him to understand the event and to make sense of it. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder in children

For a long time, it was believed that young age was a protective factor against psychological trauma. However, recent scientific research shows that children and adolescents, like adults, can suffer psychological trauma and subsequently develop PTSD or complex PTSD.

He is even particularly vulnerable in that his level of emotional maturity is not sufficient to allow him to understand the event and to make sense of it. 

The symptoms are the same as for adults (reliving, avoidance, hypervigilance) plus :

  • → Enuresis
  • → Regression in his behavior
  • → Disinterest in activities he used to enjoy
  • → Loss or increase of appetite
  • → Withdrawal attitudes or, on the contrary, more aggressiveness
Go to main content