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Cognitive behavioural therapy for trauma (CBT for trauma) helps you face the unhelpful thoughts and ideas that you developed in the wake of your trauma. It explores the connections between your thoughts, feelings, behaviours, physical responses and your trauma. Gradually, CBT for trauma guides you to look at things — thoughts, feelings, situations — you may be avoiding. You learn to change unhelpful thoughts about your trauma, leading to a greater emotional balance.

Some potential results from CBT for trauma treatment are:

  • You may feel calmer when you remember your trauma
  • You may feel less numb emotionally
  • You may feel less on-edge and reactive to those you love

Parts of this therapy are similar to two other highly recommended options: cognitive therapy for PTSD and prolonged exposure therapy.


The primary goal of treating PTSD is to create a more stable relationship between you and your trauma memories by teaching you straightforward strategies such as:

  • Helpful thinking
  • Behaviour that does not involve avoidance
  • Healthy coping skills
  • Mindfulness
  • Relaxation

CBT for trauma breaks down associations between reminders of the event (e.g. situations, people), conclusions about the event (e.g. “I can’t trust others”), and responses to triggers (e.g. fear or feeling numb). The combination of strategies that this treatment offers enables you to retrain your mind, body and spirit to decrease your trauma responses.

What to expect

You will begin by reviewing your traumatic event with your service provider. You will learn to identify the unhelpful ways you’ve thought about your trauma. This includes identifying any negative thinking patterns or moments when you start feeling that bad or catastrophic things are going to happen. Your service provider will guide you to replace these negative patterns with ways of thinking that support your growth and healing.

It will be important for you to identify the people, places and activities you have been avoiding since your trauma occurred. Working within your comfort zone, your service provider will lead you back to these situations and people again. You’ll learn coping skills like relaxation (e.g. muscle relaxation and breathing exercises) or practical skills such as assertiveness training.

CBT for trauma is offered to individuals or through group therapy. Groups are usually six to 10 people. Current research says that individual CBT for trauma therapy offers the greatest benefits.

Sessions usually last 50 minutes. With weekly sessions, a CBT for trauma program usually takes 12 to 16 weeks to complete. More sessions could help if you have experienced multiple traumas.

You may have worksheets to complete or real-life exercises. Some service providers may ask you to practise doing things you avoided since your trauma. In general, the more time you spend between sessions practising what you’ve learned, the more you will get out of the process.

Talking about trauma-related memories and completing challenging activities can be uncomfortable. However, these negative feelings do not tend to last very long. Many people feel better as they continue with CBT for trauma, and a strong majority of people who complete CBT for trauma find that the benefits outweigh the temporary discomfort.