Why CBT Isn’t Always an Effective Approach For Trauma And PTSD

Last Update on November 24, 2023 : Published on November 26, 2023
Why CBT Doesnt Work for Trauma And PTSD

Living with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be like making your way through a thorny and winding maze. To seek relief from the symptoms of trauma and PTSD, many people turn to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as a supportive therapy, hoping it will guide them out of the maze they find themselves in.

The reality can’t be far from the truth, though. CBT doesn’t always work for everyone, especially when it comes to treating trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Traumatic events can impact almost every aspect of your life and while trauma experiences might differ from person to person, it can be fair to say that trauma leaves no one unmarked.

I won’t deny that CBT is a well-researched, evidence-based, effective therapy approach for various mental health disorders. But when it comes to trauma and PTSD, CBT might not be an effective approach.

Also Read: What Is Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

In this article, let’s explore why CBT doesn’t work for trauma and PTSD and what other alternatives can you seek for your treatment.

Trauma, PTSD, and CBT

The aftermath of trauma lingers, affecting our thoughts, emotions, and even day-to-day lives. PTSD, a more complicated and severe form of trauma, can make everyday routine feel like one’s walking through a landmine.

CBT, a widely used and professionally-accepted therapy approach, works to change the negative thought patterns and behaviors you develop. Trusting CBT to help you overcome a challenge is like rewiring your brain to think more positively.

Given the role of CBT, it should work for trauma, correct? Well, while it’s true that CBT has been a successful treatment for many struggling with mental health issues as severe as trauma, it doesn’t necessarily work for trauma.

Trauma is a complicated experience, and not all therapy approaches work for everyone in the same way. In the grand scheme of things, CBT might fall short when it comes to facing and treating the unique challenges posed by PTSD and trauma.

Why CBT Isn’t Effective for Trauma and PTSD?

Trauma, unlike other mental health issues, is rooted deep in our experiences, creating a complex situation of emotions and memories. CBT, while effective in treating many conditions, isn’t always the appropriate choice for treating trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Why? Here are some reasons why CBT might fall short in treating trauma and PTSD;

CBT often works on the assumption that changing negative thought patterns can cause positive behavioral changes. However, trauma goes beyond surface-level thoughts and often involves deep-rooted emotions, memories, and physiological responses. CBT’s emphasis on cognitive changes might not always reach the root causes of trauma.

Trauma also affects not only your mind but your body as well. This mind-body connection is important because it helps us understand and heal from trauma. Therapy approaches that solely focus on changing thought patterns might overlook the body’s experiences of trauma.

Trauma impacts various aspects of your life — emotional, psychological, and physical. CBT focuses on changing thought patterns and behaviors. This approach might not fully capture the complexity of trauma.

Treating trauma needs special attention, knowledge, and experience. A therapist with a specialization in treating trauma, such as trauma-informed therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), or narrative therapy, are better alternative to understanding and addressing the challenges that trauma brings.

In CBT, a therapist works with you to identify and challenge negative thought patterns. By reframing these thoughts, the therapy aims to change corresponding behaviors, ultimately promoting a more positive mental state. While this approach can be transformative for many, trauma requires a more holistic and specialized approach.

Alternative Treatments For Trauma and PTSD

Several alternative therapies have shown promise in treating trauma and PTSD;

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a therapeutic approach designed specifically for trauma. It involves the use of bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or tapping, while you recall distressing memories and emotions. This therapy can help your brain reprocess traumatic memories, and reduce their emotional intensity and other symptoms.

  • Somatic Experiencing

Trauma often manifests in both mind and body. Somatic Experiencing focuses on the physical sensations related to trauma and works to release the stored tension and stress in the body. This therapy approach recognizes the importance of the mind-body connection in the healing process.

  • Narrative Exposure

Narrative exposure is a therapy approach that involves recounting and processing traumatic memories in a safe and supportive environment. It is effective for people who have experienced multiple traumas or complex PTSD (C-PTSD). This therapy can help you create a coherent narrative of their traumatic experiences.

  • Expressive Arts Therapy

Creative expression such as art therapy, music therapy, or dance/movement therapy can also be an alternative treatment for people with trauma and PTSD to express and process their emotions. These alternative therapies allow for non-verbal communication and can be helpful for those who find it challenging to speak about their experiences.

  • Animal-Assisted Therapy

Another alternative therapy that can be more effective than CBT can be animal-assisted therapy. AAT is a therapy approach that can offer a sense of safety and support for people living with trauma and traumatic experiences. Animals can offer companionship, reduce anxious thoughts, and even contribute to your overall well-being.

How to Find Therapists For Trauma and PTSD?

Finding the right therapist is important, especially if you’re looking for trauma and PTSD treatment. You can start looking for a trauma-informed therapist by seeking recommendations, reading reviews, and reaching out to your local mental healthcare provider.

Make sure that you feel comfortable and safe with the therapist you choose. The therapeutic relationship is a significant factor in the healing process, after all.

You also need to keep in mind that the duration of your trauma treatment may depend on your experiences and the kind of help you need. Some people find relief in a few months, while it takes years for others. The key is being resilient and picking a treatment plan that works best for you.


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Wrapping Up…

Healing from trauma and PTSD isn’t a walk in the park; it needs care, consideration, and the right treatment approach to find relief from trauma symptoms, emotions, and memories. You need to understand that finding trauma treatment isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. While CBT can be a treatment option, it might not be effective or even the right one for someone dealing with and living with trauma and PTSD.

Explore different approaches and alternative therapies and find a skilled therapist who can meet and address your needs and help you heal as you are meant to. Your recovery journey isn’t a sprint, so take your time, and don’t rush.

Be gentle with yourself and don’t give up if your treatment doesn’t work. Talk to your therapist and work with them to find the appropriate treatment for trauma and PTSD.

I hope this article helped you understand why CBT doesn’t work for trauma and PTSD always. Let me know what you think about this article in the comments below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Suramya Kaushal
Suramya Kaushal

Suramya Kaushal is a Psychologist and a certified REBT & Solution Based counselling practitioner. She Has Masters in Clinical Psychology. She has been providing counselling for Anxiety, Stress management, family and relationship counselling.

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