PTSD/Trauma Therapy (emdr & cbt)
What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences or even trauma. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.
It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can, in fact, heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the blockage is removed, healing resumes.
EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event or trauma, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Using the detailed protocols and procedures of EMDR, clinicians can help clients activate their natural healing processes.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the relationship among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; targets current problems and symptoms; and focuses on changing patterns of behaviors, thoughts and feelings that lead to difficulties in functioning.
Introduction to CBT
Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the relationship among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and notes how changes in any one domain can improve functioning in the other domains. For example, altering a person’s unhelpful thinking can lead to healthier behaviors and improved emotion regulation. CBT targets current problems and symptoms and is typically delivered over 12-16 sessions in either individual or group format.
This treatment is strongly recommended for the treatment of PTSD.
How CBT Can Help with PTSD
Several theories specific to trauma explain how CBT can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of PTSD.
For example, emotional processing theory (Rauch & Foa, 2006) suggests that those who have experienced a traumatic event can develop associations among objectively safe reminders of the event (e.g., news stories, situations, people), meaning (e.g., the world is dangerous) and responses (e.g., fear, numbing of feelings). Changing these associations that lead to unhealthy functioning is the core of emotional processing.
Social cognitive theory (Benight & Bandura, 2004) suggests that those who try to incorporate the experience of trauma into existing beliefs about oneself, others, and the world often wind up with unhelpful understandings of their experience and perceptions of control of self or the environment (i.e., coping self-efficacy). For instance, if someone believes that bad things happen to bad people, being raped confirms that one is bad, not that one was unjustly violated.
Understanding these theories helps the therapist more effectively use cognitive behavioral treatment strategies.
Using CBT to Treat PTSD
Therapists use a variety of techniques to aid patients in reducing symptoms and improving functioning. Therapists employing CBT may encourage patients to re-evaluate their thinking patterns and assumptions in order to identify unhelpful patterns (often termed “distortions”) in thoughts, such as overgeneralizing bad outcomes, negative thinking that diminishes positive thinking, and always expecting catastrophic outcomes, to more balanced and effective thinking patterns. These are intended to help the person re-conceptualize their understanding of traumatic experiences, as well as their understanding of themselves and their ability to cope.
Exposure to the trauma narrative, as well as reminders of the trauma or emotions associated with the trauma, are often used to help the patient reduce avoidance and mal-adaptive associations with the trauma. Note, this exposure is done in a controlled way, and planned collaboratively by the provider and patient so the patient chooses what they do. The goal is to return a sense of control, self-confidence, and predictability to the patient, and reduce escape and avoidance behaviors.
Education about how trauma can affect the person is quite common as is instruction in various methods to facilitate relaxation. Managing stress and planning for potential crises can also be important components of CBT treatment. The provider, with the patient, has some latitude in selecting which elements of cognitive behavioral therapy are likely to be most effective with any particular individual.