CALL 858-888-0101

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: A Proven Approach to Treatment

Learn more about the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy and PTSD. Find out where to get CBT near you.

Table of Contents


Cognitive behavioral therapy and PTSD are often thought of together. But why is this? Learn more about why CBT is a proven approach to treating PTSD in this comprehensive article.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The first part of understanding cognitive behavioral therapy and PTSD is to learn about CBT. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy.

It helps improve how people feel by changing their thoughts and actions. It focuses on how thoughts and behaviors can affect how individuals feel.

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event.

Traumatic events can include things like:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: How Does It Serve as an Effective Treatment for PTSD?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. It works by changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

CBT teaches people new skills to cope with distressing situations. This therapy helps them better understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

By challenging negative thinking patterns, CBT can reduce PTSD symptoms and improve well-being. This is why cognitive behavioral therapy and PTSD are often discussed together.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: What Techniques Are Used to Address Symptoms?

CBT uses specific techniques to help people with PTSD. These include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: Core Principles of CBT for PTSD

CBT for PTSD is based on principles and foundations that shape the therapeutic approach. These principles help guide the therapy process and inform how therapists work.1

Interconnection of Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

One core principle is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. This means that the way people think can affect how they feel and behave.

In CBT for PTSD, therapists help patients challenge negative thoughts related to trauma. By changing these thoughts, they can experience improvements in their emotions and behaviors.

Avoidance and Safety Behaviors

Another principle is that avoidance and safety behaviors can maintain PTSD symptoms. Avoidance refers to efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or situations. These often remind people of their trauma.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: Theoretical Foundations

The theoretical foundations of CBT for PTSD draw from cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy focuses on understanding and changing unhelpful thought patterns.

Behavioral therapy emphasizes modifying behaviors and learning new skills. CBT for PTSD combines these approaches to address both aspects of the disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: Summary

In all, the core principles and theoretical foundations of CBT for PTSD inform the therapeutic approach.2 This occurs by guiding therapists to target negative thoughts.

They also address avoidance and safety behaviors. It works to provide patients with practical skills to manage their symptoms.By addressing these factors, CBT aims to reduce the impact of PTSD and improve well-being.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: How Does CBT Challenge and Reframe Negative Thoughts?

CBT helps people with PTSD change and improve negative thoughts connected to trauma. Here’s how it works.

Identifying Negative Thoughts and Beliefs

The therapist helps patients become aware of negative thoughts and beliefs. They explore how these thoughts affect emotions and actions.

Examining Evidence and Different Perspectives

Therapists encourage patients to look for evidence supporting negative thoughts and beliefs. They help people consider different ways of thinking.

They also help challenge the accuracy of negative thoughts. This helps patients see the traumatic experience in a more balanced and realistic way.

Generating Alternative Thoughts and Beliefs

Through therapy, people learn to come up with new, more helpful thoughts and beliefs about the traumatic event. These new thoughts are based on evidence and are more balanced and flexible. Therapists guide patients in developing positive self-talk.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: Behavioral Experiments

Therapists may suggest trying new behaviors to test the accuracy of negative thoughts. Patients get encouraged to face situations they’ve been avoiding due to negative beliefs. By doing this, they gather evidence that challenges their negative thoughts.

Cognitive Restructuring

This technique involves replacing negative thoughts and beliefs with positive and realistic ones. Therapists help individuals recognize thinking errors.

This includes things like making things seem worse or making broad assumptions. They help people change their thoughts to be more reasonable and balanced.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: What Role Does Exposure Therapy Play?

Exposure therapy is an important part of CBT for PTSD. It helps patients overcome their fears and reduce symptoms related to their trauma. Here’s how it works:

Facing Distressing Triggers

During exposure therapy, individuals face:3

They work with their therapist to create a hierarchy of triggers. This starts with less distressing ones and progresses to more challenging ones.

What Does Exposure Involve?

Exposure can involve:

By exposing themselves to these triggers, patients learn that they can tolerate them without harm. This includes overwhelming emotions. This process is called “habituation,” where the anxiety response decreases.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: The Therapist and Exposure Therapy

The therapist offers guidance and support throughout the exposure process. This works in helping patients manage their emotions and cope with discomfort.4

Through exposure therapy, individuals gain a sense of control over their memories and triggers. By facing and overcoming their fears, they experience a reduction in PTSD symptoms. This works to improve their quality of life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: How Does It Help People Process Memories?

Exposure therapy is a helpful way for people to deal with and overcome traumatic memories. It involves facing those memories and finding ways to cope with them. Here’s how it works.

Reactivating Memories

In exposure therapy, individuals talk about their traumatic memories in a safe environment. This helps them start to understand and make sense of what happened. By talking about it openly, they can begin to process their feelings.

Dealing with Emotions

During exposure therapy, people experience the emotions connected to the traumatic event, but in a controlled way. This means they don’t get overwhelmed by the emotions. Instead, they have the chance to slowly release and manage their feelings. This can lead to healing and feeling better.

Changing Thoughts

Traumatic memories can sometimes make people think negatively or believe things that aren’t true. In exposure therapy, patients learn to challenge and change those negative thoughts.

They discover that the trauma doesn’t have to define their whole life. Instead, they learn they can have more positive and realistic thoughts.

Getting Used to It

Exposure therapy helps people become less sensitive to distressing parts of their memories. By facing those memories little by little, they become less scared or upset by them. This process allows them to feel more in control and less overwhelmed.

Making Sense of Trauma

Through exposure therapy, people can put their traumatic memories into the bigger picture of their lives.

They work on finding meaning in what happened and creating a story that includes the trauma but doesn’t define who they are as a whole. This helps them move forward and find a sense of identity beyond the trauma.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: Treatments Designed for Different Types of PTSD

Cognitive behavioral therapy and PTSD is a broad description of treatment. There are actually several forms of CBT used to treat the many forms of PTSD. These adaptations aim to address the unique needs and challenges.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

One such adaptation is cognitive processing therapy (CPT). CPT is a specific type of CBT. This type of therapy focuses on helping people with PTSD who struggle with negative beliefs related to their trauma.

It guides them in identifying and challenging these thoughts. It is also helpful in developing more balanced and adaptive thinking patterns.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

Another adaptation is prolonged exposure therapy (PE). PE is designed for individuals with PTSD who tend to avoid reminders of their trauma.

It involves exposing individuals to situations, thoughts, and memories related to the trauma. Like other types of therapeutic exposure, it occurs in a safe and controlled manner. This exposure helps reduce avoidance and fear. It also promotes emotional processing and healing.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another variation of CBT. It gets used with people who have experienced single or many traumatic events.

EMDR combines elements of CBT with bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or taps. It aims to help people process traumatic memories and reduce the distress associated with them.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

For children and adolescents with PTSD, trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) gets used.

TF-CBT is an evidence-based treatment. It combines:

It addresses the unique needs of young people and their families. This, in turn, promotes healing and recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: How Does It Differ from General Approaches?

Specialized adaptations of CBT for PTSD differ from general approaches in many ways. Here are the key differences:

Designed to Address Unique Symptoms of PTSD

Specialized adaptations of CBT for PTSD differ from general CBT approaches in many ways. These adaptations are designed to address the unique symptoms and challenges associated with PTSD. It works to promote healing and recovery for individuals who have experienced trauma.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: What Evidence Supports the Effectiveness of CBT for PTSD?

Research supports the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy as a treatment for PTSD. Many studies have demonstrated its benefits in reducing PTSD symptoms.

Below are some key findings.

Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs)

RCTs are considered the gold standard in research. They have consistently shown the effectiveness of CBT for PTSD.

These studies compare individuals who receive CBT to those who receive no treatment or alternative treatments. The results consistently indicate that CBT leads to reductions in PTSD symptoms.


Meta-analyses combine findings from multiple studies. They provide a comprehensive overview of the research evidence.

Meta-analyses focusing on CBT for PTSD consistently demonstrate its effectiveness across various populations. This includes adults, children, and veterans.

They show significant reductions in PTSD symptoms and associated problems. This includes those such as depression and anxiety.

Treatment Guidelines and Recommendations

CBT for PTSD gets recommended as a first-line treatment by reputable organizations and expert panels.

Long-Term Effectiveness

Research has shown that the benefits of CBT for PTSD are not only short-term. Instead, they can also be sustained over the long term.

Studies have demonstrated that gains made during CBT treatment persist months and even years after treatment completion. This works in indicating its lasting impact.

Comparative Effectiveness

Comparative studies have compared CBT to other treatments for PTSD. This includes those such as medication or supportive counseling.

CBT demonstrates superior outcomes in reducing PTSD symptoms. It also works in improving functioning compared to alternative approaches.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and PTSD: How can Boardwalk Recovery Help People Recover from PTSD?

Are you ready to learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy and PTSD? Discover the mental health services provided by Boardwalk Recovery.

About Our Team

Our compassionate team specializes in providing cognitive behavioral therapy for people struggling with PTSD. We offer personalized strategies to help individuals:

How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works at Boardwalk Recovery

Through cognitive behavioral therapy, you will work with our experienced therapists. You will identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors associated with your traumatic experiences.

Together, we will develop practical coping skills and effective tools to reclaim your life. We aim to help you achieve your recovery goals.

Contact Boardwalk Recovery Today

Do not let PTSD define you any longer. Take the first step towards healing and schedule your CBT session at Boardwalk Recovery Center today. Learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy and PTSD, as well as the options available.
close slider