An Affective Cognitive Neuroscience-Based Approach to PTSD Psychotherapy: The TARGET Model

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Abstract

Adaptations or alternative versions of cognitive psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are needed because even the most efficacious cognitive or cognitive-behavioral psychotherapies for PTSD do not retain or achieve sustained clinically significant benefits for a majority of recipients. Cognitive affective neuroscience research is reviewed which suggests that it is not just memory (or memories) of traumatic events and related core beliefs about self, the world, and relationships that are altered in PTSD but also memory (and affective information) processing. A cognitive psychotherapy is described that was designed to systematically make explicit these otherwise implicit trauma-related alterations in cognitive emotion regulation and its application to the treatment of complex variants of PTSD—Trauma Affect Regulation: Guide for Education and Therapy (TARGET). TARGET provides therapists and clients with (a) a neurobiologically informed strengths-based meta-model of stress-related cognitive processing in the brain and how this is altered by PTSD and (b) a practical algorithm for restoring the executive functions that are necessary to make implicit trauma-related cognitions explicit (i.e., experiential awareness) and modifiable (i.e., planful refocusing). Results of randomized clinical trial studies and quasi-experimental effectiveness evaluations of TARGET with adolescents and adults are reviewed.

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