How Cognitive Processing Therapy Works to Treat PTSD


pink highlighted PTSDPost-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a type of anxiety disorder that occurs in response to the experience of a traumatic event or near-death experience. Symptoms of PTSD, which can include nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance, may last for years or even decades without proper treatment.

Cognitive Processing Therapy, or CPT, is a cognitive-behavioral therapy (treatment that focuses on thoughts and feelings) for PTSD. CPT is an evidenced based therapy, which means that it has been proven to be effective through rigorous scientific research. CPT is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, as a best practice for the treatment of PTSD.

Focus on the Mind

CPT provides a way to understand why recovery from traumatic events is challenging and how symptoms of PTSD impact daily life. CPT teaches how to evaluate and change upsetting thoughts associated with trauma. By changing these thoughts, feelings can also change.

Trauma can change the way you look at yourself or the world around you.

After trauma, you may believe that you’re to blame, or that the world is a place you need to fear. These paralyzing kinds of thoughts can cause you to miss out on activities you used to enjoy.

The goal of CPT is to support those struggling with PTSD in addressing ways of thinking that might be getting in the way of recovery by teaching the tools to examine whether the facts support your thoughts or do not support your thoughts about the trauma, so as to come to terms with and “extinguish” those memories.

Does CPT Work?

A CPT provider gives patients an overview of the treatment. Together, the provider and the patient review information about PTSD to ensure understanding of the symptoms. Additionally, patients do some writing about how trauma has affected them.

During the sessions, patients talk about any negative or unhelpful thoughts they have been having about the trauma and work with the clinician to learn to consider alternative ways of thinking about the situation. Worksheets may be used in sessions to explore thoughts and feelings and learn to cope with these feelings.

Toward the end of treatment, therapy may focus on specific areas of life that may have been affected by the trauma, including sense of safety, trust, control, self-esteem and intimacy. If you’ve therapy and other treatments for PTSD but are still experiencing symptoms, you may want to talk to your mental health specialist about CPT and whether it could be an appropriate treatment option for you.