Complex trauma and the influence of emotional regulation and interpersonal problems: a review of Complex-PTSD and an empirical study in a prison setting
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Background The effects of prolonged, interpersonal trauma have long been recognised. Such traumatic events can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but are also associated with a range of other psychological difficulties. The forthcoming ICD-11 has proposed the inclusion of a new diagnostic category to cover such trauma reactions, named complex-PTSD (CPTSD). CPTSD is conceptualised as including the core elements of PTSD with additional difficulties with affect regulation, self-concept, interpersonal relationships. This thesis presents a systematic review of the research into the proposed CPTSD diagnosis. In addition, this thesis investigates the association between difficulties with emotional regulation, interpersonal problems and PTSD symptoms in a group of male prisoners, and a male community sample. Aims This project aims to investigate whether the proposed CPTSD diagnosis accurately describes the difficulties seen following complex trauma, and examines whether it is best to view CPTSD is different from exiting disorders, including PTSD and borderline personality disorder (BPD). In addition, it aims to investigate the association between difficulties with emotional regulation, interpersonal problems and PTSD among men in prison. Methods We systematically assessed and synthesised the available research regarding the proposed ICD-11 CPTSD diagnosis. In the second paper, data regarding PTSD, emotional regulation, and interpersonal problems were collected from HMP Glenochil, a male-only prison in Scotland (n=51), and matched to an existing community data set (n=46). Results The results of the systematic review provide partial support for the factorial validity of CPTSD. In addition, they indicate that CPTSD can be conceptualised as distinct from both PTSD and BPD, and that CPTSD is more closely related to prolonged interpersonal trauma than PTSD. However, there is overlap between PTSD and CPTSD in terms of both symptomology and aetiology. The results also indicate high levels of PTSD among male prisoners. In addition, PTSD was found to be strongly associated difficulties with emotional regulation, but not interpersonal problems, in the forensic sample. In the community sample emotional regulation was a less strong predictor of PTSD symptoms, and both emotional regulation, and interpersonal problems were associated with the severity of PTSD. Conclusions This thesis supports the inclusion of CPTSD as a distinct diagnostic entity. Inclusion of CPTSD may allow survivors a better understanding of the aetiology of their difficulties, and may initiate research into effective ways of working with individuals who have experienced complex-trauma. I addition, they demonstrate the need for trauma-informed prison services, which prioritise the development of emotional regulation strategies in recovery and rehabilitation.