Posted in: Treatment

April 24, 2018

A female counselor taking notes with a patient

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) have been found to be equally effective forms of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

CBT works by attempting to change the way a trauma victim feels and acts by changing the patterns of thinking and the behavior responsible for negative emotions. CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for PTSD and is currently considered the standard of care for PTSD by the US Department of Defense. In CBT, individuals learn to identify thoughts that make them feel afraid or upset and to replace those thoughts with less distressing ones. The goal is to understand how certain thoughts cause PTSD-related stress. Recent research on EMDR and CBT suggests that they may produce results comparable to some older and more commonly used therapies.

Exposure Therapy and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Exposure therapy is a type of CBT that involves assisting trauma survivors to re-experience distressing trauma-related memories and reminders. This re-experiencing helps patients emotionally process the traumatic memory through imagined confrontation with memories and real-life exposure to trauma reminders. Exposure therapy may be a necessary part of PTSD treatment, and organizations like the US Department of Veterans Affairs have been actively training mental health treatment staff in prolonged exposure therapy in an effort to better treat US Veterans with PTSD.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

EMDR is specifically targeted as a treatment for PTSD. Based on the evidence of controlled research, the following organizations have placed EMDR in the highest category of effectiveness for trauma treatment:

  • American Psychiatric Association
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • U.S. Department of Defense

Several international bodies have supported this claim and made similar recommendations. However, some reviewers no longer believe that the eye movements assist in recovery, proposing instead that the review of and engagement with memories, processing of cognitions and rehearsal of coping skills are the psychotherapeutically effective components of EMDR.

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