Cognitive Processing Therapy


traumatic event can shake your world, triggering a powerful emotional response and increasing negative thoughts. You may find yourself thinking what happened is your fault, that the world isn’t a safe place, or that others cannot be trusted. For some people, such thinking lessens over time, but for others strong negative thoughts don’t go away. Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) teaches you to take a closer look at the thoughts your mind generates and explore alternative ways of thinking about your trauma. By confronting your thinking, you can reduce PTSD symptoms and improve your quality of life.

What is CPT?

CPT is a psychotherapy for people with PTSD or history of trauma. It is a type of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). For more than two decades CPT has been used to treat PTSD related to combat, child abuse, rape, traumatic accidents, natural disasters, or witnessing violence or death. CPT is based on the idea that such traumas can change the way you look at yourself, others, and the world. For example, you may feel intense guilt about what happened, view others as unsafe, or see the world as dangerous and unjust and begin to cut yourself off from family and friends. CPT is an evidence-based, gold-standard treatment for trauma/PTSD. This means there is substantial evidence supporting its effectiveness as an intervention for people with PTSD or history of trauma.

What to Expect with CPT

CPT consists of a series of 12 sessions, either one-on-one or in a group, occurring weekly across three months. During your initial appointments, you will learn about PTSD, how its symptoms impact your everyday life, and why recovery can be challenging. You will work on becoming more aware of your thoughts and the feelings they generate. This can help you learn to identify the thoughts that stand between you and recovery. In CPT, such thoughts are called “stuck points.” After a few sessions, you’ll start taking a closer look at a traumatic event you have experienced. You are likely to be asked to write an account of what happened. You may do this as homework and read what you wrote aloud at your next appointment. As your treatment progresses, you will begin to evaluate how firmly you are holding on to thoughts about your trauma, assess how helpful it is to hold such thoughts so tightly, and explore ways to challenge your beliefs about the trauma. Doing so helps you change your relationship with your “stuck points,” become a more flexible thinker, and, ultimately, experience thoughts about your trauma in ways that are less upsetting. You will also work on understanding how your beliefs  about yourself, others, and the world have affected your sense of safety, trust, power/control, esteem, and intimacy.

This video, produced by the National Center for PTSD, can be helpful in better understanding CPT and the benefits of using it to address PTSD or trauma.

Feeling Your Feelings Without Fear

The skills you learn in CPT can help you resolve your “stuck points.” As you do so, you may find memories of the trauma less distressing and notice you feel less tense. You may experience less depressionanxiety, guilt or shame related to the traumatic event. You are likely to have a better understanding of how your trauma history impacts your thoughts and feelings and be better able to make progress toward recovery.

CPT is an effective treatment for people with PTSD or history of trauma. Its benefits usually last long after you complete treatment. If you are considering working with a psychologist, therapist, or counselor to address PTSD or your trauma history, be sure to ask if your provider is experienced in the delivery of one of the evidence-based, gold-standard treatments for trauma/PTSD (CPT, PE, or EMDR).

As an experienced psychologist specializing in the treatment of PTSD and trauma, I have years of experience with all three evidence-based, gold-standard treatments for PTSD – CPT, PE, and EMDR.

If you are struggling with your trauma history and interested in taking back control of your life, I invite you to call or email me to get started working together.