Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidenced based therapy for traumatized teens and their families. I have successfully implemented TFCBT with dozens of families over the years, but I recently became a TFCBT Certified therapist. Here are some reasons that I find the model particularly helpful and healing to the adolescents and families I work with:
- You talk about the trauma. In TFCBT, the teen creates a ‘trauma narrative’ that they can write, act out, draw, make into a puppet show, make into a movie…etc. This allows them to get their negative thoughts and feelings out instead of internalizing them. It also allows them to stop fearing these negative thoughts and feelings, and to see the trauma as separate from them.
- It is a hopeful model. In the psychoeducation portion of TFCBT, we teach that the brain is malleable. Thus, it can morph and change, and no negative thought pattern (or feeling) has to remain permanent. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a highly treatable diagnosis because our brains change as our thoughts and behaviors change. Thus, if we can reframe what happened to us, focus on our strengths and resources, and spend time on things that enrich us, we can form new neural pathways in our brains and greatly reduce PTS symptoms.
- TFCBT allows families to work together. In TFCBT, a trusted caregiver attends relevant sessions and also learns skills for parenting traumatized teenagers. Caregivers learn how to respond when hearing more about a teen’s trauma, and the teen shares their narrative with the caregiver in session. Caregivers often develop a deeper understanding of their teenager and can learn to help the teen utilize effective coping tools. I have seen TFCBT strengthen bonds between adolescents and the trusted adults who participate in therapy.
- TFCBT allows teenagers to embrace inner creativity and make meaning out of trauma. The entire idea of the trauma narrative is to help the client make something out of the horrible things that happened to them. I have helped clients make movies, write chapter books, and draw cartoons. It is empowering for teens to make something that is all theirs—all on their own terms— when they feel disempowered by a traumatic experience.
- The trauma narrative highlights teen strengths and what they’ve survived. In my experience, when teenagers look at their narratives, they recognize the scope of what they’ve overcome. Many teenagers will write about their resilience in a portion of the narrative, and will brainstorm ways of applying this resilience to other areas of life.
- TFCBT Teaches mindfulness based techniques and being in body. In the relaxation component of TFCBT, we focus on breathing, and using music, stretching, and meditative exercises to connect with out bodies and the present moment. Teens can learn to sit with what they’re feeling and allow negative sensations and thoughts to pass. Thus, TFCBT reinforces the idea that we don’t need to run from or avoid all unpleasant experiences.
- TFCBT reinforces that you are not alone. In therapy, teens learn that there are millions of other kids who experience PTS symptoms, and that many incredibly successful adults experienced childhood trauma. When relevant, the therapist and client read stories of people who have overcome similar traumatic experiences.
When teens don’t feel alone and different, they can feel hopeful about their futures. They can tap into what is possible, rather than the things that have kept them feeling small. Together, therapist, client and caregiver can form a new ‘narrative’ of empowerment, confidence, and resilience that allows a client to continue growing into the person they are.
Learn more about TFCBT and how you can help your traumatized child or teenager here: https://tfcbt.org/.
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Denver, Colorado. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach is designed to foster a sense of strength, understanding, and joy. Her expertise focuses on adults, adolescents and teens suffering from depression, anxiety, self-esteem and identity issues, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.