What is trauma-focused psychotherapy?

Certain types of trauma-focused psychotherapy are the most effective approach for treating PTSD. Trauma-focused (TF) psychotherapy uses different techniques to help people process traumatic experiences. Some involve visualizing, talking or thinking about the traumatic memory. Others focus on changing unhelpful beliefs about the trauma.

Which trauma-focused psychotherapies are in the PTSD Repository?

Below you can see a pie chart with the 12 of the most frequently studied trauma-focused psychotherapies. The treatments that have been studied most frequently are also those that have also been identified as the most effective: Prolonged Exposure (PE; 17% of study arms), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT; 10% of arms), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR; 10% of arms).
You can find more information about trauma-focused psychotherapies below and on the National Center for PTSD website Talk Therapy. For more detail you can see the provider story, Trauma-Focused Psychotherapy for PTSD.

Prolonged Exposure (PE)
Duration of treatment: PE usually takes 8-15 weekly sessions, so treatment lasts about 3 months. Sessions are usually 1.5 hours each.
What to expect:  PE teaches you to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations that you have been avoiding since experiencing trauma. By confronting these challenges, you can decrease your PTSD symptoms.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Duration of treatment:  CPT usually takes about 12-sessions.  Sessions are 60 minutes.
What to expect: CPT teaches you how to evaluate and change the upsetting thoughts you have had since experiencing a traumatic event. By changing your thoughts, you can change how you feel. You will use worksheets in session and at home that help you learn this strategy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Duration of treatment:  EMDR usually takes about 3 months of weekly 50-90-minute sessions.
What to expect:  EMDR can help you process upsetting memories, thoughts and feelings related to the trauma you went through. By processing these experiences, you can get relief from PTSD symptoms.
Written Exposure Therapy (WET)

Duration of treatment:  WET takes 5 sessions. Sessions are 60 minutes.
What to expect: In WET, your therapist will give you specific prompts for you to write about in each session, then check in with you afterward. By writing about the event and your feelings, you will start to experience the memory with less distress over time.

Watch our treatment explainer videos

How is trauma-focused psychotherapy usually delivered?

Trauma-focused psychotherapy is usually delivered in a 1-on-1 format.
When a provider and patient meet 1-on-1, it offers privacy and individual attention. The patient and provider can focus on the things that are most important to the patient.  CPT can be delivered in either an individual or group format, although group CPT group has been shown to be less effective than CPT delivered individually.

What to know ... 

PTSD treatment research continues around the globe, to investigate the best chance of recovery for all who have experienced a trauma. The good news is that trauma-focused treatments work for most people who have been studied.  These treatments have been well studied, with many groups of people and in many formats of care. For more information about PTSD care, visit the National Center for PTSD website.