group of firemen surrounding person on stretcher

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) also emphasizes the role of behavior in maintaining positive, healthy patterns. Our emotions influence our thoughts, just as our thoughts influence our behaviors—and vice versa. Through CBT, patients learn to identify and change the maladaptive behaviors contributing to their negative patterns. This is especially helpful for first responders that struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and trauma.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that facilitates identifying unhealthy thoughts and behavioral patterns to help modify them. Through talk therapy and other therapeutic techniques, CBT helps implement more positive thoughts and behaviors.

The principles of CBT are designed to help patients gain a better awareness of how their thoughts, emotions, and behavioral patterns are interconnected. Negative thought patterns can facilitate negative emotions and actions, and vice versa. CBT treatments work to identify and challenge these unhealthy thought patterns. Throughout the process, CBT psychotherapists question the efficacy and intention of their thoughts to help provide alternative perspectives.

The treatments are typically short-term and goal-oriented. The therapist and patient work collaboratively to set goals and develop an individualized treatment plan to achieve them. CBT involves practicing and repeating the new skills and strategies taught throughout each session. This form of psychotherapy is very hands-oninvolving homework assignments, role-playing, and other exercises designed to reinforce new strategies and habits.

CBT’s treatment plans can be personalized and adapted to meet each individual’s unique needs and circumstances. It has also been known to treat various mental health disorders and addictions.

What Does CBT Treat?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of three types of behavioral therapy, in addition to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ACT). It is a standard treatment for drug addicts, alcoholics, first responders, veterans, active-duty service members, and other individuals experiencing emotional or psychological trauma.

CBT most commonly treats:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Trauma
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Alcohol use disorders (AUDs)
  • Substance use disorders (SUDs)
  • Behavioral addictions

For the treatment of alcohol and substance use disorders (SUDs), CBT helps target those addictive thoughts and tendencies to establish where they stem from. CBT therapists are highly trained in trauma-sensitive therapy as they deal with numerous patients that battle mental health disorders and conditions that interconnect with trauma. Traumatic events often cause most mental health struggles and mental health disorders in individuals. PTSD and trauma treatments for first responders and other public health workers especially acknowledge cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and its principles.

How Does CBT Help First Responders?

First responders experience some of the most disastrous, traumatic situations on the job. Most first responders never seek or receive the help or treatments needed to process their trauma. The unique challenges and stressors they face daily are not easily forgotten or processed without treatment or therapy. First responders will often experience negative emotions and thoughts due to the trauma.

Behavioral therapists work with first responders by learning to replace those negative, destructive thoughts with a more positive outlook. The ultimate goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to assist patients in the growth of their healing process through healthy thinking and behavioral patterns. While first responders might not have extra time to dedicate to therapy and treatments, CBT treatments don’t require much time for their sessions.

Firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are responsible for ensuring the safety and lives of their community. This responsibility holds weight for many public health workers and can often make them feel pressured. The image of first responders is that their strong, courageous, and fearless individuals that will do anything to save people’s lives. While this is a positive concept, the pressure often spills over into their personal lives, making them feel like they’re “on duty” 24/7.

Many emergency responders never seek treatment or help because they fear discrediting their image. No one should ever be ashamed to receive mental health treatments, however, first responders fear it might make them look weak or incapable. Unfortunately, this stigma prevents a lot of public health workers from ever seeking help.

CBT for PTSD and Trauma

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), it’s been estimated that approximately 35% of police officers and 18–24% of dispatchers are thought to have PTSD. While trying to cope with the stress and trauma they encounter daily, many first responders use alcohol or other maladaptive behaviors as a form of self-medication.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that approximately 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), compared to 20% in the general population.

Receiving CBT treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can sometimes be incredibly emotional and vulnerable. The events and situations that emergency responders have experienced can be very sensitive and uncomfortable to discuss. Therapists are professionally trained in trauma therapy to guide your thoughts and experiences to a place of healing. While therapists are a confidential outlet that don’t personally know you, this can often help facilitate comfort and vulnerability in the process.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treatments accommodate the individual’s needs and circumstances. Through healthier coping strategies, first responders can conform to their day-to-day lives while regulating symptoms of PTSD. First responders receive personalized treatment plans to restore them and their trauma best.