Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Shines Light on the Darkness of Paranoid Personality Disorder

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be an effective means of helping those living with  paranoid personality disorder (PPD) break free of the negative thought processes that transform their world into a place of fear and suspicion. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), in combination with medications and other holistic therapies in a residential treatment center, can help clients re-establish the interpersonal bonds that they have broken.

“I think James was talking about me the other night,” my friend Steven said to me in a tone filled with both suspicion and anguish. “I know he wasn’t, but I can’t push these thoughts out of my head.” Although he was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder (PPD) years ago, he hasn’t sought treatment since leaving his first therapist. I urged him to seek help time and time again, worried at the effects that his illness would continue to have on him, but as is the problem with many suffering from PPD, he didn’t have any trust in healthcare professionals.

Individuals suffering from this illness can become entangled in their own negative thoughts so deeply that they even begin to distrust their loved ones, making any cries and urges for treatment fall on deaf ears. But if they can be convinced to attend treatment and understand how much people care about their well-being, the right psychotherapy can pull those living with PPD out of their darkness and into a clearer, more adaptive mind.

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The Harsh Reality of Living with PPD

One of the biggest challenges for those living with PPD is determining when their beliefs are true. Sometimes, the people around us do have bad intentions. A co-worker might try to discredit you for their own personal benefit, and someone soliciting donations on the street might not be who they say they are. However, for those with PPD, even good intentions are interpreted as bad, creating a world of fear that can tear them apart emotionally and sever their bonds with those closest to them. A whispered, inaudible conversation becomes a secret threat against them, and advice from concerned family members is interpreted as being rooted in ulterior motives that plot to bring them down. Watching someone express fear and suspicion towards friends and loved ones can be heartbreaking, and given the seclusion that many with PPD force themselves into, a lack of treatment can only make matters worse.

In order for those suffering from PPD to break the restraints of their negative thoughts, they must realize that their paranoia is rooted in a misinterpretation of the events that are taking place around them, and that this misinterpretation is having destructive effects on both their life and the lives of those personally connected to them. They need to identify and stop this pattern of thinking, and one of the best treatments for helping clients reach this level of awareness is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a goal-oriented type of psychotherapy that works to change the patterns of thinking and behavior that underlie various mental illnesses—including paranoid personality disorder.

How CBT Can Help Paranoid Personality Disorder

While past treatments for PPD focused on ignoring paranoid thoughts and experiences and avoiding confrontation, modern forms of treatment have shifted towards using CBT to help clients become aware of their paranoia and understand how these thoughts affect their perception of the world. From here, clients can move toward seeing how this perception affects their actions and relationships with others.

CBT will start off slow, with clients at first asked to trust others with smaller things and examine the outcome of these situations. This could be anything from trusting their therapist to get their coffee in the morning, to something a bit more personal such as providing feedback on an art or pottery class conducted during the course of residential treatment. These behavioral experiments allow clients to put their negative assumptions of the world to the test, and eventually learn to distinguish between signs of good and bad intentions.

With proper CBT, individuals with PPD learn to pinpoint the nature of their paranoid thoughts when they surface, and gain the ability to turn them into positive thoughts that are a truer reflection of their surroundings, helping them realize that the people around them are not out to get them. Ultimately, the goal is to help them look at the world in a more positive manner in order to foster healthier relationships in their personal and work lives and reignite the trust and love that they have lost to their illness.

The benefits of CBT extend far beyond the behavioral spectrum—it also alters the way that the brain communicates with itself. Numerous studies have examined the effects of CBT on neurobiology, revealing its ability to alter various neural circuits that are involved in negative emotions and social cognition. One found that CBT alters the brain pathways involved in fear extinction—a common psychological phenomenon whereby a learned fear response declines—by decreasing hyperactivity in regions that underlie the response. Another found that it can increase activation in areas of the brain connected to empathy and forgiveness in those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Learning to control negative emotions and focus on positive feelings is an essential process for those with PPD, and these studies highlight the ability of CBT to help clients achieve this.

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Integrating CBT into Holistic PPD Treatment

Living with PPD can turn the world into a dark, uncompromising place and make even your closest friends and loved ones feel like your enemies. Confronting these feelings in a comfortable, non-judgmental environment is essential to avoid taking the route of isolation that many living with this disorder end up choosing. Participating in an immersive treatment program equips clients with the tools that they need to break the constraints of their illness and live a more fulfilling life.

Although CBT on its own is an extremely effective method of helping those with PPD confront, understand, and alter the maladaptive thoughts that dominate their mind, it is even more effective in combination with a comprehensive residential treatment plan. In addition to the positive effects of CBT, clients can benefit from the use of medication and holistic remedies such as yoga and pottery to really get the most out of their treatment by keeping a clear, positive frame of mind. Other treatment methods include both individual and group therapies, as well as customized plans that integrate the benefits of numerous holistic techniques designed to help those living with mental illness.

Remember, the emotional turmoil that paranoid personality disorder causes is not never-ending—with time and effort, you can help your loved one with PPD learn how to trust again, and bring back the light needed to illuminate the positivity in their life.

Bridges to Recovery offers CBT as part of our comprehensive treatment for individuals living with paranoid personality disorder, as well as other co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse, or process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our unique programs and how we can help you or your loved one understand and cope with paranoid thoughts.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Tyssul Patel