Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a form of therapy that aims to change the way you think and act in order to aid you in managing the negative effects of PTSD. Trauma-focused CBT specifically looks at ways of allowing you to come to terms with events that have traumatised you through a broad range of different psychological techniques.

As an example, one means of allowing you to confront the traumatic events of the past is to consciously consider them in detail. It may seem counter-intuitive to purposefully dwell on the cause of your trauma, yet part of the problem PTSD causes is a disordering of thought and memory. It can be tough to recall events accurately, and one might suffer from the loss of memories, or recall events incorrectly, out of order, or in an understated or exaggerated manner.

In other words, the mind suffering from PTSD can confuse its own recollection of events. Without a true memory to steady yourself, it can be very difficult to react in a rational, proportionate manner to events, both past and present. You may over-react to certain situations and triggers, or experience a sense of detachment from reality as a result.

Consciously and carefully recalling the trauma events in as much detail as possible allows you to correct this disruption in your thoughts and regain control.

This process, quite naturally, causes distress while you’re working on it. Recalling events that were traumatic to you is, in itself, traumatic. It is, however, a necessary process that allows you to deal with the trauma. Your therapist will be there to help you cope with any distress the process causes, while simultaneously identifying unhelpful thoughts you may be having or misrepresentations about the experience that you believe.

Through this process, your therapist will help you find ways of taking control of your distress and fear and shifting from the negative way you perceive events – usually characterised by a sense of blame for what happened, or fear it will happen again.

You may also be encouraged to gradually restart any activities you have avoided since your experience, such as driving a car if you had an accident.

You will usually have 8-12 weekly sessions of trauma-focused CBT, although fewer may be needed if the treatment starts within one month of the traumatic event.

Sessions where the trauma is discussed will usually last for around 90 minutes.

Read more about CBT on the NHS website.

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