Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that affects an estimated 7 to 8 people out of every 100 at some point in their lives. That equates to about 8 million adults suffering during any given year. This particular disorder is caused by a traumatising event that occurs in someone’s life, and they have a hard time coping and moving past it. It can be caused by abuse, assault, witnessing a disaster, an accident, or any other serious event. These people tend to have triggers that remind them of that disastrous moment, taking them back to that period in time and feeling those emotions as if it were real all over again. This experience can become a catalyst for depression, anxiety, rage episodes, each of which can severely hinder someone’s quality of life.
CBT for Trauma
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is proven and effective method to help treat people who have PTSD, both short and long term. Psychologists use a specialised trauma-focused set of protocols in CBT and use those stages of treatment to transform unhealthy thinking, triggers, and symptoms into healthier coping mechanisms and enhance emotional regulation.
Things that a Psychologist will utilise with someone suffering from PTSD includes encouraging their patients to re-evaluate their thinking patterns and negative assumptions so they can identify them and replace them with healthier ones. Another one is called grounding, where people learn to use their senses to bring them back to the present when they experience flashbacks.
Stages of CBT – What Clients Can Expect
Clients who need help with overcoming their trauma can expect to go through a strategic set of steps to get the best care and treatment plan for their specific needs. Though there are many variations of how a psychologist will perform the stages of trauma focused CBT. Here we will be looking at the stages based on the Oxford Cognitive Therapy Trauma Group’s PTSD intervention methods that have a body of evidence. This is also the type of trauma focused CBT you can expect to experience if you get treated at Quest Psychology Services. The stages are not always linear and are adapted to what suits the person best.
- Assessment: The first step a psychologist will do in this effort is to assess the client. They will interview them, have them describe their trauma, triggers, and figure out cognitive themes they possess to better understand the right to path take for their treatment.
- The rationale for Treatment: Next, the patient will be given an in-depth analytical overview of their PTSD, their symptoms, and will often use easy to follow analogies to provide them with a better understanding (such as jigsaw puzzle references).
- Thought Suppression Experiment: Next, the psychologist will perform an experiment. Because many people going through PTSD deal with intrusions by pushing them away, the psychologist will tell the patient to not think about something, because that will inevitably make them think about it. They then learn to get rid of suppression and allow those emotions and thoughts to come and go without pushing them away.
- Education: Education is the key to empowerment. Those with PTSD more than likely think that their coping mechanisms are linked to something within their life they had fostered when, in reality, it was something entirely different. Being educated and enlightened on the truths can give them more insight into the actual core issue rather than circling the drain. This helps people understand the scientific causes of why their traumatic memories have not been processed.
- Reclaiming Their Life: This is a crucial step because it involves patients taking back control of their life and not letting PTSD take the lead anymore. They learn a new sense of meaning, purpose, and remember that their trauma does not define them.
- Reliving with Cognitive Restructuring: Once that new sense of self is established, next the patient will be asked to relive their trauma under safe and carefully planned out circumstances. They will be asked to target hot spots in the event and will need to describe the event in moment by moment detail as if they were there again. This exercise allows memories to be processed.
- In vivo exposure: Something else that psychologists can do, but is rarely used, is exposure. This is a process of putting patients through reminders so they can come to terms with their past and accept what has happened to them. They will see the then and now, the difference time has made, and establish a better time perspective that will drive them to pre-accident behavioral patterns.
- Identifying Triggers of Intrusive Memories and Emotions: In this model, patients will talk deeply with their psychologist about what harmful triggers they have that resurface intrusive memories or adverse thoughts. For example, if someone had an issue with a helicopter, a ceiling fan could trigger their PTSD. They will learn how to distinguish the triggers, learn how they are not associated with the event, and gain an ability of how to separate the concepts.
- Imagery Techniques: Last but not least, imagery techniques are beneficial in altering the meaning of memory. A common way psychologists go about this is by telling the patient to view the event from a different perspective. If they were in an accident, they should imagine how the accident was for the other person involved. This allows for a broader view of the trauma, and more insight that could outweigh the distress they feel from just thinking of it from their standpoint. This in turn fills in gaps in memory which allows it to be processed.
PTSD can happen to anyone at any stage of their life. The duration this lasts varies from person to person, and the severity of the symptoms is all individualised. An individualised approach using CBT is one of the best ways to recover. Psychologists can work with you and come up with custom ways to redesign your mindset and actions into better ones so you can not only cope better but move from the position of victim to survivor.