The link between ideas, feelings, and actions is the subject of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which observes how improvements in one area can enhance functioning in others.

The major reason why CBT doesn’t work for trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is that it attempts to deal with problems on a surface level, focusing on symptoms rather than root causes. This means that it focuses on questioning beliefs to modify behavior.

The issue is that PTSD and trauma may be a powerful motivator of ideas, thoughts, and actions, resulting in patterns that are difficult to modify until the PTSD and trauma are appropriately explored and treated. You can find a good therapist for trauma or PTSD on platform such as BetterHelp.com.

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why cbt doesn't work for trauma

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Understanding Trauma and PTSD

Trauma is defined as an emotional reaction, and it can happen once or several times, and a person might be exposed to more than one sort of trauma. Traumatic incidents can occur at any age and can have long-term consequences. Because everyone reacts differently to trauma, symptoms might not be identified right away or even for a long period.

On the other hand, PTSD is a mental health condition when someone is exposed to or observes a traumatic event. PTSD can interfere with an individual’s daily activities as well as their capacity to operate.

Symptoms of PTSD might be triggered by words, noises, or situations that remind them of a traumatic event. Every person who has PTSD is unique. Based on their biology and the trauma they have undergone, each individual’s symptoms are different.

What is CBT?

CBT, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that teaches people how to recognize and overcome harmful or troubling thinking patterns that affect their behavior and emotions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, for trauma or other issues, focuses on modifying automatic negative thinking that can exacerbate depression, emotional problems, and anxiety. These irrational negative thoughts have a negative impact on one’s mood.

Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

There are a variety of CBT treatments and a variety of behavior therapies that can be classified as CBT by some. CBT is used in a variety of different types of therapeutic treatments, such as:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT incorporates emotional control and mindfulness tactics to address thoughts and actions. DBT patients have a tendency to perceive things in black and white. They might not be able to see a grey region or locate a middle ground. If you lack coping skills and find yourself bouncing from one problem to the next, DBT may be able to assist.
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: Identifying erroneous ideas, the active challenges of these beliefs, and eventually learning to recognize and alter these thought patterns are all part of this process. You will discover how to actively question erroneous beliefs and, eventually, detect and modify your mental habits.
  • Cognitive Therapy: It focuses on detecting and altering false or distorted thought processes, emotional responses, and behaviors.
  • Multimodal Therapy: It proposes that psychological problems should be addressed through seven distinct yet interrelated modalities, which consist of cognition, behavior effect, interpersonal factors, imagery, drug considerations, biological considerations, and sensations.

Agenda planning, activity scheduling, and cooperatively creating homework tasks are just a few of CBT parts. The impact of cognitive distortions on unpleasant emotions and dysfunctional actions are elements of cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Why CBT Doesn’t Work for Trauma and PTSD?

CBT refers to numerous strategies and approaches for dealing with thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Structured psychotherapies and self-help resources are examples of this. Moreover, CBT for trauma and other surface layer therapies have proven unsuccessful or slow in many cases.

The worst thing about severe and chronic trauma is the long-term consequences it may have on an individual’s life. Most PTSD victims describe a pervasive sensation of numbness or emptiness, as well as a lack of enthusiasm in life. Cognitive behavioral therapy for trauma and PTSD is not the most effective treatment since it merely addresses symptoms rather than the underlying causes.

The objective is that by concentrating on challenging beliefs in the hopes of altering them, the therapist will modify the patient’s behavior. Through which the individual will be able to live a more productive and healthier life and will be able to break free from self-destructive thinking and behavior patterns.

Furthermore, in the case of trauma and complex PTSD, CBT overlooks unhealthy beliefs and behaviors that emerge from the trauma. They are a symptom, not the cause, of the person’s true condition.

The root of the problem is unresolved, unaddressed trauma, which is still present physically in the individual and causes the unhealthy beliefs and behaviors that cognitive therapy attempts to address.

In a study conducted by the University of Hertfordshire, individuals with learning disabilities or mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia found CBT ineffective.

The level of commitment necessary might be difficult, as patients must become engaged in their therapy, which will be organized and prepared ahead of time. Therapy may require facing problems at times, which may be impossible for some people who find it too stressful.

cbt for trauma & ptsd

Using EMDR to Treat Trauma and PTSD

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR is a considerably more efficient and established method of coping with trauma and PTSD. This is an out-of-the-box yet highly common therapeutic strategy among physicians and patients that tries to first identify and process the trauma before building healthier, more adaptable beliefs.

The key distinction between EMDR and CBT is that, in the case of trauma and PTSD, EMDR focuses on the trauma’s fundamental cause rather than any symptoms that may arise as a result of it. In this way, it can be considered a more essential, detailed approach, treating problems at their core level before moving on to surface ones.

Therapists and patients who have undergone EMDR treatment say it is a very effective and fast-acting therapy that results in immediate and apparent changes in a person’s quality of life. This contrasts with CBT, which may be excruciatingly slow in coping with trauma, requiring months or years to show any genuine results.

EMDR works by reprocessing trauma from its source, making it much simpler to build better beliefs. On the other hand, CBT tries to reshape beliefs and behaviors without first addressing the underlying trauma, which makes it much more challenging.

The effectiveness of EMDR treatment is assessed by reducing suffering produced by unsettling memories from the past, an increase in self-esteem and confidence, and the capacity to recognize and control cognitive processes connected with traumatic trigger experiences.

You can find somme good EmDR therapy sessions online on website such as virtualemdr.com.

EMDR was created with PTSD in mind and has undergone extensive investigation. It has been listed as the most efficient treatment for trauma therapy by many of our most recognized organizations, based on the findings of controlled studies.

EMDR treatment helped 77 percent of adults with psychotic illness and PTSD, according to a 2012 study by David P.G involving 22 people. It was discovered that following therapy, their delusions, anxiety, hallucinations, and depression symptoms were greatly improved. Furthermore, the study also discovered that symptoms did not worsen as a result of therapy.

Conclusion

CBT for trauma always focuses on the client and their ability to effect change in their own lives. Some argue that this overly limited emphasis misses essential elements such as family, personal history, and broader emotional concerns.

Personal investigation and study of emotions and looking at difficult situations from a number of angles are not possible in CBT. In order to address these issues, an individual would need to take a different method, possibly psychodynamic treatment.

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To support the work of the people working on TherapyHunter.com, we may receive compensation if you sign up for online counseling through the links provided.

Josiane Camilleri

Josiane Camilleri

Professor

Writer for Therapy Hunter as well as psychology
professor at Malta University.

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