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Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps individuals, especially those with PTSD, learn how to modify and challenge unhelpful beliefs related to their trauma. In so doing, they gain a new understanding and conceptualization of the traumatic event so that it reduces its ongoing negative effects on current life.

CPT has been effective in reducing PTSD symptoms that developed after experiencing such traumatic events as child abuse, combat, rape and natural disasters. 


Generally taking about 12 sessions, treatment can be delivered both individually and in structured group sessions, along with out-of-session practice assignments. CPT was originally developed with the written trauma account as one component of treatment, but sometimes it is delivered without this, and more emphasis is placed on cognitive techniques. Treatment can follow these steps:

Psychoeducation regarding PTSD, thoughts and emotions. The individual becomes more aware of the relationship between thoughts and emotions and begins to identify “automatic thoughts” that maintain PTSD symptoms. The client may write an “impact statement” on current understanding of why the traumatic event occurred and the impact it has had on beliefs about self, others and the world.

Formal processing of the trauma. The individual details the worst traumatic experience in writing or verbally to try and break the pattern of avoiding thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma. The therapist uses Socratic questioning and other strategies to help the client question unhelpful, self-blaming thoughts to modify any maladaptive thinking.

Continued evaluating and modifying beliefs related to trauma, once the client has developed adaptive strategies to identify and address unhelpful thinking. The therapist helps the client use these skills outside of treatment to improve overall functioning and quality of life. Therapists may focus on areas of safety, trust, power, control, esteem and intimacy—all of which can be affected by traumatic experiences.

Learn more about CFI’s treatment options for PTSD and trauma-related concerns…



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