How Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a treatment that focuses on solving problems and providing action-based solutions to them. This form of psychotherapy is best for mental health disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as this can help a person understand and challenge unhealthy thought processes and emotions. It reduces the symptoms and also improves the quality of life. CBT occurs for generally 12-20 sessions, with their weekly sessions lasting for about 50-55 minutes.

Photo by Ryan Gagnon on Unsplash - About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Photo by Ryan Gagnon on Unsplash

How does CBT help treat PTSD

CBT is by far an effective treatment for PTSD. It works by challenging the unhealthy thought processes and emotions connected to someone’s trauma. When a patient is taught to challenge these thoughts, he learns to acknowledge his pain and trauma. Moreover, CBT helps by improving a person’s insight through exploring his emotional insights that are reminders of the trauma. 

When this insight increases, it sharpens the connection between responses and emotions. CBT helps patients with PTSD reduce the negativity of their panic responses in daily life and also reduce the severity of these responses. CBT helps people with social anxiety by reducing social withdrawals or avoidance behaviors. This element of CBT assists in removing isolation and withdrawal and effectively deals with trigger responses in patients with PTSD. 

Standard CBT techniques for PTSD

There are multiple techniques for treating patients with PTSD, but CBT has specific approaches to reduce the symptoms, which include cognitive restructuring and stress inoculation training. 

The most common CBT techniques for PTSD include the following:

– Cognitive Restructuring (CR)

Destructive and flawed thought processes profoundly impact a person’s memories and emotions, and these maladaptive thoughts are connected to traumatic incidents that they have experienced. CR is an important aspect of CBT, and it helps by letting the person explore, challenge, and start trading his negative thoughts with healthy and positive ones, ideally grounded in reality. 

– Exposure Therapy (ET)

As mentioned earlier, people with PTSD fear mingling with people and have social anxiety. For them, people, places, sounds, and other things are reminiscent of their past trauma.

Here ET introduces patients to increased levels of stress-related stimulus. They are taught to cope with these stimuli until their anxiety levels are manageable or within control, and then ideally, they disappear when confronted with stress-related stimuli.


– Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT is another technique of CBT, and it deals specifically with people with PTSD. In this therapy, the patients are taught to consider how the event unfolded and how it changed their thought processes. They are then challenged to consider the actuality of those events and thoughts and check if they have formed negative ones.


– Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)

SIT can be provided to PTSD patients as a stand-alone treatment or with other therapies. This one also works by teaching coping mechanisms, lowering anxiety levels when exposed to stress-related stimuli in PTSD. 

Other healthier coping techniques like breathing sessions, muscle relaxation skills, and communication skills also help the patient cope during stress or when anxiety triggers. 

– Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a relatively new treatment in the world of CBT. It works by talking about the traumatic incidents or memories, processing this information, and giving attention to a redundant event with the help of the eyes.

The primary purpose behind EMDR is to match the way you mentally perceive the tragic memories and help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with the memories.


– Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is a relatively new model of CBT which focuses on accepting and acknowledging the thoughts and emotions related to stress-related stimuli and memories of the traumas instead of controlling or limiting the thoughts.

ACT also involves CBT techniques and helps reduce the trauma incident’s destructive power on that particular individual. ACT is an extension of CBT-based treatments, and it continues to develop. 

All these mindfulness techniques teach people coping skills that help reduce anxiety related to PTSD.

How is CBT effective for PTSD?

Researches are underway on CBT techniques, and it is one of the most widely researched psychotherapy treatments equally beneficial for adults and children due to its short-term and long-term benefits. 

CBT for patients with PTSD helps them confront their trauma, and it remainders therapeutically so that the signs of distress get minimized. This method is culturally validated across the world due to its far-reaching effects. CBT is beneficial in treating anxiety-related disorders, and the patient drop-out rate is substantially low. CBT is also thought to be effective for treating chronic and acute PTSD as it is safe and helpful for people of all ages. Patients who get their treatments through CBT notice a significant reduction and improvement in their symptoms of PTSD, along with betterment in their stress and anxiety.


Five easy exercises for PTSD

It’s always best to seek the services of a licensed professional for therapy of your PTSD symptoms. Still, at times, some at-home exercises and activities under the guidance of your therapist can help keep future symptoms at bay. 

Here are five easy exercises you can do at home to reduce the symptoms of your PTSD:

Replay the incidents in your mind to practice cognitive restructuring

This will initially be very difficult to practice when you must reframe your trauma or relive those painful moments regularly. Fortunately, this is one way to challenge your negative thoughts as they surface. When these thoughts emerge, you will gradually learn about the triggers of your PTSD symptoms. Once they are identifiable, their management becomes much more manageable.


Use the ABC technique for PTSD.

The ABC model or technique helps you to identify how or where a negative or maladaptive thought begins, or you can say, the ABC model explores the origins of your negative beliefs. Here is how it works;

A – Identify the activating element or trigger. Once identified, this will lead to an essential emotional response or negative belief.

B – Identify the belief. The belief is the negative thought that develops during your traumatic event or trigger.

C – Identify the consequences. The negative emotions or actions that developed as a result of A and B

The ABC model allows you to challenge how you interpret your belief or trigger that is influenced by the outcomes. Make this a practice and write down your motivations, beliefs, and consequences according to the ABC model. You will be better able to track your cognitive restructuring more stably, allowing you to challenge an emotional response that may have led to a traumatic incident. 


Keep a journal of your developments.

To know the result of your development, it’s good to keep a daily record of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, rituals, habits, and behaviors. When you develop the habit of regularly writing and monitoring your thoughts, you will know more about yourself and the ABCs that trigger your PTSD symptoms. You will also discover things that helped you manage your PTSD symptoms in the past. 

Meditation and body relaxation techniques.

Meditation techniques have gained substantial popularity in the past few years, especially in the physical and mental health fields. If you are dealing with PTSD symptoms, it is a familiar feeling that your body feels strange tenseness that you think you cannot relieve yourself off.

Meditation practices like yoga, deep breathing exercises, massage, and other progressive relaxation techniques may comfort your mind and body and even soothe your anxiety levels, especially if you have recently experienced a trigger.

Develop a healthy lifestyle

PTSD can harm your health, so it’s good to develop a healthy lifestyle to keep the triggers at bay. Besides keeping your body relaxed, try to avoid alcohol and drugs when dealing with trauma and tense emotions. Substance use may worsen your symptoms, hamper your treatment, and cause havoc with your relationships. 

Another essential factor you cannot overlook is to have a healthy diet, which starts right from your breakfast. To keep your energy levels high:

  1. Take nutritious meals at regular intervals.
  2. Include omega-3s in your diet from fatty fish, nuts, and flax seeds.
  3. Avoid processed foods, junk foods, fried foods, and refined sugars, and monitor your starch intake as these may trigger your symptoms and create mood swings. 

A good night’s sleep is the natural tincture for most ailments because sleep deprivation may lead to anxiety, irritation, anger, and moodiness. Try to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you struggle with sleep, inculcate some comforting bedtime rituals like listening to calm music, having a warm relaxing bath, or using some essential oils to soothe your mind. Also, make your bedroom sleep-friendly by installing dark blinds. 


Final word

For people dealing with symptoms of PTSD, CBT can help you increase your awareness of your physical state, mental state, and thought process. While it’s not easy to seek help, if you do, it will undoubtedly make a difference. 

I aim to share helpful information on the latest trending topics with my readers. In my articles, you will find new ways of living life, personal stories, news, knowledge, and everything else that life and our society offer.

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Kevin Foodie
2 months ago

This is a detailed explanation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I do not believe that CBT is effective at treating all mental illnesses. Therapist and their clients have had success with CBT treatment of PTSD. Thanks for sharing.

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