What are the Pros and Cons of CBT for PTSD?

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  • Written By: H. Colledge
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 February 2020
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CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is a type of talking treatment which concentrates on changing any unhelpful thoughts and behaviors which may be contributing to a person's problems. PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, is a condition where anxiety, and symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares, are experienced for a prolonged length of time following a traumatic experience. Studies have shown that using CBT for PTSD is more effective than using other psychological treatments. CBT teaches PTSD sufferers ways of coping with their anxiety in a relatively short time. Disadvantages of using CBT for PTSD include the fact that it requires commitment, may not be suitable for some complex cases, and focuses only on current problems.

PTSD is thought to affect around a third of those who go through traumatic experiences, such as witnessing a violent death. Symptoms of PTSD can begin straight away or after an interval of time which can be as long as several years. They may come and go or remain persistent, and can include reliving the original event in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. Sufferers of PTSD may feel constantly alert, anticipating danger, and may avoid anything that reminds them of their trauma. They may also become withdrawn and lacking in emotion in an attempt to fend off disturbing feelings.


Talking therapies such as CBT are often recommended for treating PTSD, and studies have shown that using CBT for PTSD in adults may be the best option. This kind of therapy for PTSD can be effective even if it is carried out a long time after the initial disturbing event. One advantage of using CBT for PTSD is that treatment can work in a short space of time, usually less than 12 weeks, with therapy sessions taking place once a week. It is even possible to administer CBT in the form of a book or a computer program, which could be convenient when a therapist is not available.

Research suggests that the use of CBT for PTSD in children can have a positive effect. An advantage is that CBT is thought to be safe, while the use of drugs, for example, may involve side effects. A disadvantage of using CBT for PTSD in adults or children is that individuals with learning difficulties or with several different mental health problems may be unable to follow the process. The commitment required can be challenging, as patients are required to become fully involved with their treatment, which will be structured and planned in advance. Sometimes therapy will involve confronting anxieties and this may not be possible for certain people who may find it too distressing.


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