Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Posted on May 1, 2019
Last modified on July 11, 2019

Woman's Sad Eyes

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is an effective treatment for trauma and PTSD. It helps change the way you think about traumatic events. It gives you skills to transform how past trauma impacts your life today. Cognitive processing therapy for PTSD can be used in one-on-one therapy or group counseling.

Who Benefits From Cognitive Processing Therapy?

The effectiveness of cognitive processing therapy for PTSD is backed by multiple studies. It’s often used to treat people who have:

  • PTSD from military combat
  • Trauma from experiencing or witnessing violence during police, EMT or firefighter work
  • PTSD from sexual violation or physical assault
  • PTSD that makes survivors fearful in present day life

What Is Cognitive Processing Therapy Like?

The specific exercises in cognitive processing therapy may vary by practitioner. The key elements of CPT usually include these aspects:

Learn About Trauma

Your therapist educates you about trauma. You’ll learn what causes trauma and the ways it can affect you for years if left untreated. Your therapist will explain why people get stuck in PTSD. They’ll also let you know what you can expect in cognitive processing therapy.

Tell Your Trauma Story

As part of cognitive processing therapy, you’ll share your trauma story and how it’s impacting you today. Your therapist may ask you to write about it or ask you questions to guide you through your story.

Attend to PTSD Symptoms

The effects of trauma can cause physical and mental symptoms. Your therapist will help you learn ways to manage these symptoms. Examples of PTSD symptoms include:

Intrusions – How past events are intruding on your current life through unwanted thoughts, images, sounds and smells.

Strong emotions – Regularly experiencing anger, fear or physical reactions like tight chest and jaw or rapid heartbeat.

Nightmares – Frequent bad dreams that interfere with sleep or make you fear it.


Hyperarousal – Experiencing more anxiety than the average person. You may have stronger startle reactions, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating.


Negative mood – You think and feel emotions like sadness, guilt, anger and shame often. You may also have problems feeling positive emotions like love and happiness.

Distorted thinking – You may view people as untrustworthy and dangerous who aren’t in reality. You may place blame on people who didn’t directly cause or intend trauma. You may blame yourself for the traumatic event. You may think you did something wrong to cause the trauma.

Avoidance – You may avoid internal experiences like thoughts and emotions about the event. You may also try to avoid things outside of yourself that remind you of the event or make you feel unsafe. These may include people, places and situations.

Identify Your Stuck Points

Thoughts that keep you trapped in your trauma are known as stuck points in CPT. Often stuck points revolve around thinking in extremes. They’re usually not accurate and cause intense negative emotions. Your therapist will help you identify your stuck points.

Feel Emotions

Strong negative emotions like fear and anger are difficult. It’s natural to want to avoid them. The problem is that when you avoid feelings, they don’t go away. They may grow stronger and surface in unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse. Cognitive processing therapy for trauma encourages you to feel the natural emotions that come with experiencing trauma in a safe space. You’ll learn to validate these feelings, honor them and release them. Feeling strong emotions instead of pushing them away helps you loosen their hold on you. They grow less powerful.

Change Unhealthy Thinking

Thoughts affect feelings and actions. Unhealthy thoughts from PTSD can hold you back from enjoying life. You may be avoiding things that once brought you pleasure. Cognitive processing therapy teaches you to recognize unhealthy thoughts. It encourages you to question their accuracy. CPT helps you change the way you think about the traumatic event and present day situations. Your therapist will give you assignments between sessions to help practice lessons you’ve learned about different ways of thinking.

Do you have questions about Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)? If so, call 844-875-5609

OR take a look at our locations.

Sara Schapmann

Written by

Sara Schapmann

Editorial Staff

Written by

Editorial Staff

Have questions about our therapies? Call 844-875-5609

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