What Is Trauma-Focused Therapy (CBT)?

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat mental health subjects such as trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. A particular type of CBT known as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, or TF-CBT treatment, is one area of focus. What is it? Who can trauma focused therapy help? Let's find out.

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What Is CBT?

Before we learn what Trauma-Focused CBT is, let's first look at CBT. CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) is a form of therapy designed to eliminate bad thoughts and habits and replace them with more productive ones. For example, if you're depressed, you may experience thoughts telling you that you're not good enough and that you deserve everything that's coming to you. CBT would help you throw away those thoughts and replace them with more positive ones. CBT also helps with habits. For example, your procrastinating may be affecting your stress. CBT would help by teaching you how you can procrastinate less.

Because CBT is so versatile, it's one of the most popular forms of therapy available, and it has helped people overcome a variety of mental health concerns. Therefore, if you're interested in this effective means of getting help, you're not alone. Other people have changed their lives by using CBT.

Now that you have a general overview of CBT, let's look at Trauma Focused CBT (TF-CBT treatment), a more specific type of this treatment method.

What Is TF-CBT?

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, as the name implies, helps treat a traumatic experience. It is designed for younger people, children, and teens as well as their families. The goal is to help them all to get past traumatic experiences. Adults can also utilize the TF-CBT treatment model; however, it may be more effective for adolescents impacted by trauma, or in helping children deal with trauma. The Child Welfare Information Gateway lists it as an important therapy for children going through trauma.

This type of therapy is evidence-based treatment, and it's been seen to be quite useful for someone who is experiencing different traumas or a single trauma. Those who can provide Trauma Focused CBT can help the younger crowd overcome their trauma before it develops into something much worse. Systemic reviews of this type of therapy show that it may be more effective than other forms of therapy for younger people, such as adolescents impacted by trauma. Trauma-focused treatment can even help with sleep problems, physical abuse trauma, changing emotional responses to stimuli, and reducing emotional distress.

History Of Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Trauma-Focused CBT was the product of different researchers, including Esther Deblinger, Judith Cohen, and Anthony Mannarino. They wanted to learn more about how children and teens who were traumatized faced difficulties in their lives. This leads to the development of Trauma-FocusedCBT, and it combined traditional CBT with family therapy, taking a trauma-sensitive approach.

As they researched, they tried five trials, all controlled, and this helped show the effectiveness that CBT can have. Since then, other researchers have studied Trauma-FocusedCBT as well and have found it to be quite effective for treating this age range.

How Does TF-CBT Work?

With all that said, how does Trauma-Focused CBT work? It's for younger people who are experiencing the psychological effects of trauma. It uses CBT as well as family and humanistic therapies. The treatment is usually less than 16 sessions, and it's seen as quite effective. Approximately four out of five children who go through TF-CBT can improve.

When trauma happens, it can be hard for everyone involved to be able to process their feelings about the situation.Trauma-Focused CBT can help all parties address their thoughts and get past the ones that can lead to PTSD, stress, depression, and other mental health conditions. When one experiences trauma, they may mismanage their emotions. TF-CBT aims for people to be able to manage emotions in a much healthier way. To do this, they may go to a safe and familiar environment. This allows the children and teens to express their emotions in a stable comfort zone. Once they're able to do this, CBT and other therapies are given. Those affected can learn that trauma can distort one's perception and that there are healthier ways to cope with it.

Trauma-Focused CBT is based on skills. For it to work, the family and the children need to practice these skills. This may involve assignments at home. In the end, the goal is to allow the family to continue practicing these skills in an environment that is safe and healthy.

Learn More About Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Here

Trauma-Focused CBT can teach relaxation, trauma narrative, psychoeducation, and future safety skills. Therapists will also meet with families in joint sessions rather than individually to help family members develop skills together. For Trauma-Focused CBT to work, there needs to be a significant relationship between all parties involved. Therapy can help all parties strengthen their relationships and learn better coping skills. Parents can help support their children this way as well. The counselors give families the tools needed to help the children deal with their traumas.

What Can TF-CBT Treat?

We mentioned before that Trauma-Focused CBT can treat trauma, but what kind of trauma is it able to handle specifically? The main goal is to treat post-traumatic stress. When a child is physically, sexually, or mentally abused, they are likely going to have anxiety, depression, and other negative behaviors that are a result of the trauma. Children can also develop PTSD from sexual abuse and other types of abuse. A counselor can help them eliminate the negative behaviors and attempt to move on from the trauma.

If you or someone you know is or may be experiencing abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, available 24/7, at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. Live chat is also available on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.

If the therapy is dealing with children affected by displacement, fostering, adoption, or family abuse, or cases in human services, the therapist will focus on these issues. Other caregivers of the child may be able to attend the sessions. Non-offending parents or the non-offending parent may also attend, but it depends on whether the child is currently in human services and if the parent has the right to attend these psychiatric services. Learn more about these laws at the Child Welfare Information Gateway. The Child Welfare Information Gateway is an excellent resource to learn more about child maltreatment, psychological therapies available, evidence-based treatment, and more. Through the Child Welfare Information Gateway, you can also sign up to receive emails and stay connected on important child welfare topics.

The age range for people who have Trauma-Focused CBT is from 3 to 18. These children have been abused and experienced all levels of abuse. If someone has had mild trauma, or severe, repeated trauma, they can receive benefits from this type of therapy. Children will learn techniques such as the gradual exposure treatment model, cognitive processing, deep breathing exercises, and validation techniques. The evidence-based treatment has been proven to be effective, and a TF-CBT therapist can help children in a way that they understand. Parents will also participate unless they were the cause of the trauma. TF-CBT can also help children who are dealing with grief as well as those in foster care or who have been taken away from their parents.

TF-CBT Counselors

With that said, who exactly are the therapists who offer TF-CBT? These are qualified therapists who need to have child development training and can treat mental health conditions in children. A therapist must be trained if they want to practice in TF-CBT. Extra training is provided for those who wish to be supervised.

There are certified courses that are designed for TF-CBT. A practitioner needs to have a master's degree if they want to participate in the training course required to get started. It begins with two days of live training and then follow-up training. This consultation may continue once, twice, or every few months, and once they complete the training, they graduate. A practitioner must also have trained on different cases and pass an exam to prove they know TF-CBT.


One may wonder how effective TF-CBT is. It's quite useful, and research has proved that young people who are experiencing the consequences of trauma can respond well. There have been 11 studies on TF-CBT, and they all have shown that it is quite useful for depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other side effects associated with trauma. The more sessions one has, the more effective it is. This is because TF-CBT is designed around the mind of a child or a teenager. They cope with trauma differently, and a counselor needs to get into the mind of those who are dealing with the trauma to face it head-on.

With that said, there are some limitations to TF-CBT. It may not be suitable for children who've had conduct or other behavioral problems that occurred before the trauma. This may prevent them from receiving the benefits of TF-CBT, and they may need a different approach to treat their problems.

If a teen is suicidal or has substance use issues, they may not be able to benefit as well. Or, their symptoms may worsen in the beginning. It can still be quite effective, but the problem comes when a child or teen is in danger. If done at the right pace, TF-CBT can still be useful, but there may need to be another approach beforehand. In this case, dialectical behavior therapy is a suitable solution. If a teen has self-harm issues or problems with running away, there may be benefits, and it can help them stop negative behaviors.

If you or a loved oneare experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National SuicidePrevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255and is available 24/7.

Seeking Help 

It can be difficult for a child (or adult) to deal with their trauma. Trauma can be complicated to overcome at any age, especially when you're young. It can seem overwhelming, and you may not be able to understand your emotions fully. That's where in-person or online therapy comes in. Licensed therapists can help to identify any problematic emotions you may have and then help modify them into something more productive.

Research shows that online therapy can play a significant part in healing from past trauma. A study of 15 youth who had been exposed to trauma participated in individual TF-CBT via videoconferencing with an online therapist. The participants experienced a reduction in PTSD symptoms. Results of the study were found to be comparable to in-person therapy.

If your child has experienced trauma and could benefit from therapy, reach out to one of our BetterHelp TF-CBT trained therapists today. Therapy is also suitable for other reasons as well. If the child has a dream or an aspiration, a therapist can work with them to create a goal. A BetterHelp counselor or therapist can help them deal with school, plan for the future, or resolve other problems that they may have. You can also check out the Child Welfare Information Gateway for more information on child welfare. There is no shame in speaking to one if you have a problem. It just proves that you are willing to admit you have a problem, and you want to work on it. Your child can meet with their online therapist or counselor at a time that fits into their schedule and where they feel most comfortable. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"I have had many therapists in the past 10 years, and they have all been helpful, but my experience with Lauren has been transformative. She is bold when necessary and honest, but she always wants to let you make the choices you choose. She always wants you to be healthy first and foremost. She provides goal settings, cognitive behavioral therapy, help with anxiety, and will be honest if more support is needed than just online therapy."

"I enjoyed my session with Traci. She was able to give me a variety of CBT techniques in our very first session. She listened intently to what I had to say, and overall, I felt the session was well-run, and the conversation had a positive effect on my mood."


Traumatic events don't need to control your life and haunt you forever. By finding a therapist who is experienced in using trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, you can learn how to cope and make these negative feelings and sensations less powerful. This will allow you to start living a more contented and healthier life. Take the first step today.

Commonly Asked Questions On This Topic Found Below:

What is a key aspect of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy?
What techniques are used in trauma-focused CBT?
Is CBT therapy good for trauma?
What is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy for adults?
What is the difference between trauma-focused CBT and CBT?
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