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Posted: September 7th, 2023

Using CBT for PTSD affected veterans

Using CBT for PTSD Affected Veterans

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event, such as combat, sexual assault, or natural disaster. PTSD can cause distressing symptoms such as intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance, negative thoughts and feelings, and hyperarousal. These symptoms can interfere with daily functioning and quality of life.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments for PTSD that can help veterans cope with their trauma and reduce their suffering. One of the most widely used and well-researched treatments is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps veterans identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts that are related to their trauma and affect their emotions and behaviors. CBT also teaches veterans skills to manage their anxiety, cope with trauma reminders, and engage in positive activities.

How Does CBT Work for PTSD?

CBT is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected and influence each other. When we experience a traumatic event, we may develop negative or distorted thoughts about ourselves, others, and the world. For example, we may think that we are to blame for what happened, that we are weak or defective, that others cannot be trusted, or that the world is a dangerous place. These thoughts can make us feel angry, guilty, ashamed, fearful, or hopeless. They can also make us avoid situations or people that remind us of the trauma, isolate ourselves from others, or engage in unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse or aggression.

CBT helps veterans break this cycle by teaching them to examine and challenge their thoughts and beliefs about the trauma. By doing so, they can discover alternative ways of thinking that are more realistic, balanced, and helpful. For example, they may realize that they are not responsible for the trauma, that they have strengths and abilities, that there are trustworthy people in their lives, or that there are safe places and opportunities in the world. Changing their thoughts can help them feel more positive emotions such as relief, confidence, gratitude, or hope. It can also help them change their behaviors by reducing their avoidance, increasing their social support, and engaging in healthy coping strategies.

What Does CBT for PTSD Involve?

CBT for PTSD typically involves 12 to 16 weekly sessions of 50 to 90 minutes each. The sessions can be delivered individually or in a group format. CBT for PTSD usually consists of three main components: psychoeducation, cognitive restructuring, and exposure.

– Psychoeducation: This component involves learning about PTSD symptoms, causes, and treatments. The therapist explains how CBT works and what to expect from the therapy. The therapist also helps the veteran identify their goals and motivations for treatment.
– Cognitive restructuring: This component involves identifying and challenging unhelpful thoughts related to the trauma. The therapist teaches the veteran how to use worksheets and questions to evaluate their thoughts and consider alternative perspectives. The therapist also helps the veteran practice these skills in session and at home.
– Exposure: This component involves confronting the trauma memories and reminders in a safe and controlled way. The therapist guides the veteran through two types of exposure: imaginal exposure and in vivo exposure. Imaginal exposure involves writing or talking about the details of the traumatic event in order to process the emotions and thoughts associated with it. In vivo exposure involves gradually facing situations or activities that the veteran has been avoiding because they trigger anxiety or distress.

What Are the Benefits of CBT for PTSD?

CBT for PTSD has been shown to be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms and improving functioning and quality of life for veterans across different populations and settings. According to several studies [1][2][3], CBT for PTSD can help veterans:

– Decrease their frequency and intensity of intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance, negative thoughts and feelings, and hyperarousal
– Increase their ability to cope with trauma reminders and manage their anxiety
– Enhance their self-esteem, self-efficacy, optimism, and resilience
– Improve their relationships with family members, friends, and other loved ones
– Engage in more positive activities and pursue their goals

CBT for PTSD is also compatible with other treatments such as medication or family therapy. Some veterans may benefit from combining CBT with other interventions to address their specific needs and preferences.

How Can I Access CBT for PTSD?

If you are a veteran who is struggling with PTSD symptoms and would like to try CBT for PTSD, you can start by talking to your primary care provider or mental health provider at your local VA facility. They can help you assess your eligibility for CBT for PTSD and refer you to a qualified therapist who can offer this treatment. You can also visit the VA website [4] to learn more about CBT for PTSD and other evidence-based treatments for PTSD.


[1] Monson CM et al. (2006). Cognitive processing therapy for veterans with military-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(5), 898-907.
[2] Resick PA et al. (2015). A randomized clinical trial to dismantle components of cognitive processing therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in female victims of interpersonal violence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83(2), 282-296.
[3] Rauch SA et al. (2012). Changes in reported physical health symptoms and social function with prolonged exposure therapy for chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Depression and Anxiety, 29(8), 686-694.

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