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condition: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Trauma focused CBT focuses on a person’s distressing feelings, thoughts (or cognitions) and behaviour and helps to bring about a positive change. The treatment concentrates specifically on the memories, thoughts and feelings that a person has about the traumatic event. This may involve looking at particular memories of the trauma, in order to process these in a way that can be more helpful than simply trying to avoid or suppress them. This can be done in various ways including listening to recordings of your own account of the trauma. You will be given help to cope with any emotional distress and behavioural problems that may arise during treatment.

As the painful and traumatic memories begin to decrease, you may be encouraged and helped to start activities that you have been avoiding since the trauma, such as driving a car if you have avoided driving since an accident.

If you have developed PTSD within 3 months of a traumatic event, CBT can be effective on an individual basis for, on average, 8-12 sessions. However treatment can still be effective if you have been experiencing symptoms for longer than this.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the name given to the psychological and physical problems that can sometimes follow particular threatening or distressing events. These might include a major disaster, war, rape or sexual, physical or emotional abuse, witnessing a violent death, a serious accident or other situations in in which a person was very afraid, horrified, helpless, or felt that his or her life was in danger.

Some or all of the following symptoms or feelings may occur:

  • Repeated and intrusive distressing memories of the event
  • Feeling of reliving or reexperiencing an event through ‘flashbacks’ or nightmares
  • Physical reactions such as shaking and sweating
  • Avoiding talking about the event or people or situations that remind them of the event
  • Thinking about the event constantly
  • Having associated guilt or shame related to the event
  • Anxious or irritable
  • Difficulty in concentrating and sleeping
  • Doing ordinary things like working, going to school or meeting friends
  • 80-90% of PTSD sufferers have other problems such as depression and anxiety.(Reference NICE Guidelines 2005)
  • Some people use recreational drugs or alcohol to cope

In 2005, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (a body of experts convened by the government that review all available research and make treatment recommendations), proposed CBT as a psychological treatments of choice for PTSD. Medication may also be helpful.


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