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CBT vs EMDR for PTSD Treatment: Finding the Right Fit

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Hi there! Welcome to our blog. In this blog post, we will be talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for the treatment of PTSD. Whilst both are effective evidence-based approaches for treating PTSD let’s look at the key similarities and differences.

CBT vs EMDR for PTSD Treatment

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for PTSD:

CBT focuses on the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviours. In CBT, clients are helped to identify their vicious cycles and develop healthier coping mechanisms. A key stage in CBT for the treatment of PTSD involves exposure therapy. This is where clients are encouraged to confront and process traumatic memories as well as their triggers in a controlled and safe manner with the view to reducing the distress they cause. CBT would include for example verbal or written recalls of the trauma incident and exposure to these. Following which it is expected that clients would experience reduced distress when thinking about the traumatic event.

2. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR):

Like CBT, EMDR also aims to process traumatic memories and alleviate the emotional distress associated with them. However, EMDR takes a different approach from CBT. Instead of detailed recalls of the incident, EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements or taps, while clients reflect on the thoughts, feelings, or sensations the trauma evokes. By processing these elements with bilateral stimulation, clients experience a significant reduction in the distress associated with the traumatic memory.

Whilst all trauma therapy can be difficult, in our experience, we've noticed that some clients find EMDR less overwhelming and easier to engage with than traditional talk therapy like CBT as EMDR allows them to process the trauma without extensively discussing details with the therapist.

3. Effectiveness in Treating PTSD:

Both CBT and EMDR are proven to be effective in treating PTSD, leading to significant symptom reduction and both are used within the NHS. But ultimately the the choice between CBT and EMDR for PTSD depends on individual needs, preferences, and what resonates best with each client.

4. Therapist Training and Expertise:

To deliver CBT or EMDR effectively, therapists require specialised training. It's crucial to work with a qualified and experienced therapist proficient in the chosen therapeutic approach.


So, the key question, EMDR vs CBT for the treatment of PTSD? Both CBT and EMDR have demonstrated efficacy and success. The best choice depends on your unique needs and comfort levels. Remember, working with a skilled therapist is key to finding the right approach for your PTSD journey.

To discuss CBT or EMDR with one of our therapists, get in touch and we would be happy to help.


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