Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

A journey to healing from complex trauma.

Questions To Ask Potential Therapists About Treating Complex Trauma ~ Lilly Hope Lucario


I am aware of the vital necessity, for any therapist treating a survivor of complex trauma, to have enough insight, education, training, experience, empathy and knowledge about complex trauma.

Without these, many complex trauma survivors are harmed further, re-traumatised and this can greatly harm their healing journey. It can lead to suicide. It can lead to the survivor, never seeking help again.

There are many deep and complex layers of trauma, involved in complex trauma. Complex trauma is severe, ongoing interpersonal abuse, where the victim does not have or perceive a viable escape. Trust has already been destroyed during the abuse occurring. Often boundaries have been abused and the client’s survival tools, will include a lack of trust with anyone. Very understandably.

The therapy relationship may be the only relationship the client has, to talk openly and without fear of judgment, invalidation, minimization of the suffering caused.

More information about complex trauma, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be found on my website

@ http://www.healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.com/.

My website is supported by many mental health professionals, in the trauma field.

Building a relationship with a therapist, will likely be a challenging journey. But, a ‘safe enough’ therapy relationship, will be required. Safety, for many complex trauma survivors, is a fear inducing situation. It can take considerable time to build up enough trust and safety with a client. That is normal.

I advise people seeking therapy, to find out whether the potential therapist, is adequately skilled, to provide the quality of therapy required.

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The following, is a list of potential questions I recommend, to discern if the therapist will be suitable.

And remembering the therapist is there to provide a service to you (the client) and they should be receptive to questions. It is needed to know whether any potential therapist is suitable for a complex trauma survivor.

It may feel awkward to questions, but it is our right, to ask. In not asking questions, we have no gauge as to the quality of therapy and that can result in more harm, or being further traumatised.


1. Ask the therapist, what they know about the differences between trauma and complex trauma?

They should have an in depth knowledge of this subject. They should know trauma can be caused by events such as a one time sexual assault in adulthood, a car crash, military combat, the unexpected death of a loved one etc.

They should also know complex trauma is ongoing interpersonal trauma/abuse, caused by people. It is long term abuse, or multiple abuse/trauma. It is within a captivity situation, where there is no perceived means of escape. It causes deep, pervasive and complex issues with trust, emotion regulation, sense of identity, emotional flashbacks, inner critic, toxic shame and social anxiety. To name a few.

The therapist, needs to be very aware of the deeper issues caused by complex trauma, as  opposed to other types of trauma.

2. Ask the therapist, how many clients they have treated for complex trauma?

They need to be experienced in providing therapy.

3. Ask the therapist, what training they have received for complex trauma?

They need to be adequately trained within this very complex and new area of psychology and provide details.

4. Ask the therapist, whether they engage in regular supervision?

Any therapist treating clients for trauma, should be receiving regular supervision, by another adequately trained supervisor.

5. Ask the therapist, how they manage the intense emotions that will be occurring, as the client starts to process the deep and painful complex trauma?

They will need to be able to explain situations, where they have managed intense emotions and how.

6. Ask the therapist, what they know about dissociation?

Dissociation is a common issue many complex trauma survivors deal with. Asking this, will gauge how much insight and knowledge they have about complex trauma. And will indicate their capacity to manage this in their clients.

7. Ask the therapist, how they deal with a situation where a client requires more specialised treatment than they are able to offer?

This will gauge the level of understanding, that some clients needs, will be beyond their capacity to treat. They should say they will refer the client to a more suitable mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist. They should explain, they will not just drop a client, or offer no referral or support, during this transition period.

If the therapist appears to believe they can treat all situations and clients, this would be an indicator of someone not to commence therapy with, due to a lack of own insight. Too many therapists, treat outside of their own capacity and knowledge and this can be very harmful to a complex trauma survivor.

8. Ask the therapist, how often they can offer appointments?

If you feel you need weekly, or twice weekly appointments, you will need to know if this can be provided.

9. Ask the therapist, what will occur, if the therapist is on leave, sick?

A therapist treating a complex trauma client, should have alternative therapy in mind, to cover these situations. Leaving a complex trauma client without any therapy, for periods of weeks or months, can be very dangerous. There needs to be another therapist available to provide continuity of treatment and in situations of emergency needs.

10. Ask the therapist, what situations they have managed, where significant empathy and insight, were required?

This should gauge the types of situations require adequate empathy, and insight.

11. Ask the therapist, if they consider there is a timespan to healing/recovery from complex trauma?

If they yes there is, and specify e.g. 2 years. Run. Anyone with enough insight about complex trauma, will know there is no set timeframe to healing. It can take a few years, but more likely take a lot longer. And in many cases, it will be a lifelong journey. You will need anyone treating complex trauma, to know this.

During the questions, gauge how comfortable the therapist feels about being asked questions. If they are comfortable and the questions are received well and answered well, this is a good sign.

If the therapist does not appear to appreciate questions, struggles to answer them, or seems to not want to answer the questions, this is likely not the therapist needed.

It is also wise to know that any therapist, will need to be a good fit with their client. This does not always occur with the first therapist someone finds. There may be a need to change therapist, and again, that is the clients’ own right and decision.

The client is the person in control of their therapy journey. The therapist is there to help the client in their journey, not dictate how it progresses, or project any beliefs.

~ Lilly Hope Lucario

I am so thankful to see this blog post shared by many mental health professionals, and feedback received such as “Those are very good questions to ask!”,   “Blog is encouraging & truthful”, “Excellent and much needed questions!”, “Definitely the most essential questions to ask a potential (or your current) trauma therapist”. 

This article is recommended by professionals, as an excellent way to increase the likelihood of finding adequate and appropriate trauma focussed therapy.

A few of the mental health professionals who have provided feedback supporting this article include:

Shannon Thomas LCSW – South Lake Christians Counselling

Dr Felicia Florence – Psychology educator, speaker, blogger, and expert

Tracy Tacquard MS LMFT – Rancho Family Counselling

Amanda Williamson – Counsellor – Amanda Williamson Counselling

Hilary Jacobs Hendel – Psychotherapist, Author, Clinical Supervisor

Jocelyn St.Cyr LICSW Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker

All blogs written by Lilly Hope Lucario and subject to © Copyright Protected.

All rights reserved. No part of any entry/blog, may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, copying and pasting. recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods.

This includes adaptations in all forms of media.


Author: Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

I am a survivor of complex and multiple trauma and abuse, who at the age of 40, began my healing journey. I am using my journey to recovery and healing, to help others, to help survivors feel less alone, validated, encouraged and to enable others to understand themselves more. Complex trauma, particularly from severe, prolonged childhood abuse, is profoundly life changing. Complex trauma produces complex adults. The journey to recovery is a painful, often lonely, emotional daily challenge and it is my aim to encourage others in their daily battle. ~ Lilly Hope Lucario

16 thoughts on “Questions To Ask Potential Therapists About Treating Complex Trauma ~ Lilly Hope Lucario

  1. Great questions. I am a trauma survivor and I completely agree that this work takes so much time. I often compare it to the math problem of digging a hole. Just when 3feet are dug 2 feet fill back up. The only thing that is missing from the math problem is that sometimes you have to stop digging, rest, and take time for yourself to heal.

    • Thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate it!

      And yes, once therapy has commenced, there may be times when you do not deal with the trauma, and instead focus on other aspects of healing. I have needed to do this at times and my therapist has explained this and why it is needed and okay to take a break from trauma processing.

      ❤ ❤

  2. Great questions… but what if you don’t know you have complex trauma and complex ptsd… what if you don’t know what’s wrong with you…what’s happening to you… what if you have very very severe panic attacts and you don’t know what’s happening. … I’ve blocked all the trauma’s I’ve endured over the last 34 years and became very very ill… never heared of ptsd or complex ptsd. .. never knew what is dissociation… what if you’re everyday situation is fear so you don’t know you have hypervigilance because it’s your normal… ect ect.. this happend to me… very ill I finaly seek help… get the wrong treatment because they didn’t know how complex my ptsd was… get EMDR 44 times and it retraumatised me … but what did I know of this??? Had no idea … thought I did something wrong . Thought I was weak… I became more and more ill… my cptsd became like hell…..
    I stopped it myself… the EMDR… I can’t take it anymore….. now… after 2 years off hell I know all this information… you write about. .. thanks to you’re blog, website, I understand what happend to me… but retraumatised. …. now I can ask these questions. …
    Thank you for all you write about
    It helped my to understand ME

    • Thank you for your message and I am glad if anything I write, helps you to understand yourself more ❤

      EMDR is not suitable for everyone and that's okay. I wish the mental health industry would not talk about EMDR as the 'cure' for all PTSD, as that is very wrong. I have had many people let me know, it made them feel worse and worsened their symptoms. I wish therapists, were aware it not suitable for many complex trauma survivors.

      The reason I created my website, is due to the lack of information in one place, about Complex Trauma and PTSD that is not about military and first responder trauma.

      I wanted more info in a website, specifically about complex trauma, complex PTSD and the type of severe PTSD, caused by severe ongoing abuse.

      This helps many to find the info they need and all the many issues due to it.

      Many people have stated, as a result of my website and this blog, they do understand they have endured complex trauma. Then they can seek appropriate professional support.

      Lilly ❤ ❤

  3. Thankyou! This will be very helpful!

  4. great read. wish I would have been aware of these questions while I was a walking Basket Case !!!!!

  5. I’ve been through the therapist treadmill! Both seeing interns & therapists. I was even ripped off of 150 dollars by one who claimed that was how much she needed for an intake. I often wonder why so many of these therapists never knew about what you’ve wrote about here? I’ve gotten more valuable info on here than several years combined with all the therapists I’ve seen. It now makes sense. It sure didn’t before & let me tell you those therapists all some of them would do is make sarcastic remarks i.e. “your mother sure knew how to pick them” (referring to the men in her life) to silly remarks, to just stone silence.

  6. I really appreciate this information and website. I am trying to print out this article to have as reference in finding a new therapist and have been unsuccessful for the last hour. This is the glitchiest website I’ve ever seen. I click on the print option and I just get pages of writing layered all over eachother. I’m using Firefox on my Mac….is there a better browser? I’m literally having a panic attack right now. Please help.

  7. Thank you so much for this list of questions. I am about to speak to a new therapist at a centre where the one I had before for a few sessions was screamingly inadequate – I ended up dealing with her emotions during sessions rather than mine as she was masively catastrophising, judging, accusing, couldn’t explain therapy and got super defensive when I asked questions.

    So many years of asking for help and nobody ever said a thing about trauma!! Reading things like your blog puts it all into sense now and gives hope that with identification of the issue there can be progress towards a healthy, happy, not-scared-all-the-time life.

  8. As a trauma therapist I completely agree with your questions you’ve recommended perspective clients to ask a therapist! Complex Trauma is very individualized and unlike many cases, they are not an over night fix nor can a timeline be estimated!
    A state license does not mean a therapist is qualified to treat someone with complex PTSD nor does a licensed therapist with years in private practice!
    Personally, I am continually in ongoing training and certifications throughout each year to be the best expert I can be for these clients and even then, I have some cases I refer out to ensure the client gets the support they need and deserve.
    Sometimes, Ive even worked in tandem with a second mental health professional so high risk clients have the extra support needed when an outpatient setting is all they can afford.
    If a therapist is offended by your recommended questions, they should not be advertising themselves as a expert in this area.
    I’ve stopped accepting health insurance this year because so many insurance companies set impossible limits on what they will cover. For example as a trained EMDR therapist most insurance companies do not pay for anything over a 45 minute session! This has never been sufficient to treat a client with Complex PTSD. The extended sessions aren’t only needed for EMDR, but many of these clients need extra session time just to become comfortable enough to share. This often can be compounded by dissociation!

    • Thank you Tracy, I appreciate your feedback, especially as you are a therapist in the trauma field.

      I agree, if a therapist is not okay with these questions, they should not be offering counselling to complex trauma survivors.

      I also agree with your insight into the restrictions on therapy due to health insurance companies, is very unhelpful and can leave a survivor in a dangerous place.

      Thank you for your message, I really appreciate it.

      Lilly ❤

  9. Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

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