Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a well-known, but often misunderstood psychological condition. This video presents a cognitive behavioral (CBT) model of PTSD to help explain why PTSD happens and factors that maintain PTSD.
For people who have experienced a traumatic event, it is natural to want to think about the event to process what happened and use that information to feel safer in the future. However, by thinking about the traumatic event, it can often trigger similar feelings that a person had at the time of the event, causing a lot of emotional distress. Therefore, it’s common for people to try and suppress these traumatic memories. The suppression of these thoughts leads to the paradox of thought suppression – the more you try not to think about something, the more you end up thinking about it. As a result, suppressing these thoughts and memories causes them to come up more often. Additionally, by trying not to think about the traumatic event, a person with PTSD is not aware of and is not able to challenge faulty beliefs and assumptions about themselves, other people and the world more generally that are connected to the traumatic event. These faulty beliefs and assumptions contribute to the distress and anxiety of PTSD. Finally, a person with PTSD will also attempt to avoid behavioral reminders of the traumatic event, thereby avoiding people, places and activities that bring up memories of the event. This behavioral avoidance not only maintains the anxiety and distress of PTSD, but it also causes significant interference and distress in a person’s life. What they fear in the world gets larger and larger, while the places and activities where they feel safe gets smaller and smaller.
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