Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for PTSD

March 7, 2022

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven to be an extremely effective treatment for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CBT is a type of psychotherapy that is used to treat mental health issues. CBT focuses on the idea that feelings and behaviors are caused by thoughts. It provides a self-empowering outlook, focusing on the thing that you can control - your perception. 

Many people think that their feelings and behaviors are at the mercy of people’s actions, events, and situations out of their control. According to CBT, that’s not the case. You have the power to change your thinking whether a situation changes or not. This can have a positive effect on your feelings and ultimately your actions/behavior.

PTSD is a mental health condition that can come about when a person experiences a traumatic (shocking, frightening, harmful, or dangerous) event. A wide spectrum of events (everything from fighting in a war to the death of a loved one) can cause a person to develop PTSD.

When a person experiences such an event, it can trigger a “fight-or-flight” response. Some people will be able to recover from a traumatic experience over time. However, a person with PTSD will have trouble recovering. They may feel frightened or stressed, even though they are not currently in a dangerous situation.

In this article, you’ll read about:

How CBT Can Help with PTSD

CBT is commonly used to help people with PTSD. Characteristics of PTSD include unhealthy thinking patterns that are connected to your trauma. These unhealthy thinking patterns have a negative impact on your emotions and your behavior. 

CBT will challenge these thinking patterns by helping you acknowledge and accept your trauma. From there, you can begin to look into how you respond to reminders of your trauma, which can help you gain emotional insight.

This insight allows you to see the connection between your responses and how it affects your emotions. Panic responses caused by PTSD can have a negative impact on your daily life and can make it difficult to function. CBT can decrease the intensity of such a response. It can also help decrease what are known as avoidance behaviors.

PTSD can cause a person to withdraw. CBT can keep you from this tendency to isolate. All in all, if you have PTSD CBT can improve the quality of your day-to-day living.

CBT Techniques for PTSD

There are many techniques used in CBT. However, there are ones that specifically help with PTSD.

Cognitive Reconstructing

Emotions and memories connected to your trauma can cause negative and distorted thought patterns. Cognitive recognition is an extremely helpful CBT tool as it helps you identify, dispute, and begin to replace negative thoughts with healthier thoughts. This can help you feel more grounded.

Exposure Therapy

People with PTSD have a tendency to avoid certain situations, people, places, sounds, and anything that may trigger trauma responses. In exposure therapy, you start to introduce yourself to trauma-related stimuli. This is done little by little over a period of time.

By slowly introducing you to such stimuli, coping skills can be utilized to lower your anxiety to the point where it doesn’t affect your daily living.

Stress Inoculation Training

Stress inoculation training can be used on its own or with other CBT techniques. It teaches specific coping mechanisms that can lower your anxiety produced by trauma-related stimuli.

These coping mechanisms include:

Practiced over time, these coping mechanisms can become second nature when confronted with stressful triggers.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a more recent form of CBT. ACT’s aim is to place you in a state of mind where you just observe and accept your thoughts and emotions that are triggered by stressful stimuli. 


ACT doesn’t teach you to challenge or attempt to control your thoughts. It just teaches you to be a “witness”  to thoughts and emotions. ACT can decrease the grip a traumatic event has on you. 

It’s somewhat similar to the dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) technique known as “mindfulness”, which helps you live in the present moment. Because of this, ACT can free you from being defined by your past.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy is a CBT technique that focuses on the facts. It helps you look at how the traumatic event happened and how it’s affected your thoughts patterns. Cognitive processing therapy allows you to consider whether your thoughts are based in reality or if they're maladaptive/distorted as a result of your trauma.

EMDR

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a fairly recent CBT treatment. It encourages you to talk about your memories of a traumatic event, process it, and draw your attention to “back and forth” eye movement.

Specific CBT Treatment for Specific Types of PTSD

Everyone has their own unique way of experiencing mental health issues. This is very true when it comes to PTSD. An example of a specific type of PTSD would be that of a veteran:

A veteran may have witnessed extreme violence, watched her friends die, or have near-death experiences.

Because of this, she attempts to avoid memories, thoughts, images, etc. that remind her of the trauma she endured. CBT sessions may focus on exposure therapy in order to process thoughts and emotions to decrease avoidance.

CBT assignments may be given in order to take the coping skills learned in the sessions and apply them to specific situations as they arise. Journaling can help her track the progress she’s making. She can look back with her therapist to see how the use of coping mechanisms is related to reduced anxiety when implemented.   

There are many other types of events that cause PTSD. Regardless of a person’s experience, CBT will continue to help those struggling with PTSD.

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