Things to Know about Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Experiencing a traumatic event is not rare. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 5 out of 10 women and 6 out of 10 men go through at least one traumatic event in their lives. Furthermore, around 6% of the population will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point. Having PTSD is normal, and seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness. 

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of psychotherapy designed to help people manage distressing thoughts due to traumatic life events. Originally developed to treat sexual assault survivors with PTSD, CPT is also an effective approach for people who have experienced other traumatic events such as military combat, child abuse, or even natural disasters. 

If you or your loved one is considering undergoing CPT, here are the essential things you should know about this treatment:

CPT Is An Evidence-Based Treatment

CPT is considered an evidence-based treatment, which means its effectiveness is supported by research. The American Psychological Association has recently rated it as a first-line treatment for PTSD.

Essentially, CPT helps people overcome errors in thinking or “stuck points.” It is designed to identify and address the negative beliefs that people develop after going through a traumatic event. These negative beliefs, directly and indirectly, affect many aspects of people’s lives, including trust-building, relationships, intimacy, self-esteem, power or control, and safety.

CPT Has Four Phases

CPT typically lasts 3 months and takes place over the course of 12 sessions. The treatment has 4 main phases:

  • Assessment: During the first session, the therapist will assess whether the patient is appropriate for CPT. If they are, they’ll write an impact statement that outlines their understanding of why the traumatic event happened and its impact on themselves, other people, and the way they view the world. 
  • Psychoeducation: The therapist will provide information about the patient’s symptoms. The former will also explain the theoretical orientation of cognitive behavioral theory and all facets of the patient’s treatment and recovery.
  • Processing: The therapist and patient will work as a team to help the latter identify negative automatic thoughts that may be maintaining their symptoms. The patient formally processes their trauma. The therapist uses Socratic questioning and other techniques to help the patient evaluate unhelpful thoughts such as self-blaming and gradually disrupt their preexisting beliefs.
  • Review: Once the patient develops skills to identify and address negative thinking and adaptive strategies, the therapist will review their therapeutic journey. They’ll also create a plan for relapse prevention. A follow-up session is also recommended 30 days after completing the treatment.

CPT may be conducted one-on-one or in structured group sessions. Patients will also be given assignments such as out-of-session practice.

CPT Isn’t Just for People With PTSD

CPT can also help address other trauma-related symptoms such as:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anger
  • Psychological distress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Coping problems
  • Cognitive distortions
  • Dissociation
  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt

CPT may also help reduce or eliminate areas that weren’t specifically targeted during the sessions. In a 2012 study, adult women diagnosed with sexual assault-related PTSD were treated using CPT. At the end of the treatment, the participants also reported positive changes in symptoms such as habituation and hopelessness, even though these weren’t the primary goals of the treatment.

CPT Has Certain Limitations

While studies have shown that CPT can be very effective in treating PTSD, the approach does have certain limitations. Here are some of them: 

  • It’s not yet conclusive whether CPT is effective across all segments of the population. 
  • Many individuals with PTSD are also likely to experience other mental health issues like dissociation, psychosis, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal intent. CPT may not be the ideal choice for these people unless the therapist can ensure that the other symptoms are not too severe that they’ll make it impossible for the patient to participate in CPT sessions actively.
  • There’s still a significant number of veterans and other patients who continue to experience PTSD symptoms even after undergoing CPT. 

Is CPT Right for You?

You don’t need to live with PTSD. It can be treated. There are different options that can help you manage your symptoms, build healthy coping skills, and improve the quality of your life. Contact a licensed and experienced psychotherapist now to find out if CPT is the right choice for you or your loved one.Stanley E. Wipfli has years of experience helping patients suffering from PTSD. He is available for in-person therapy in San Francisco and virtual counseling throughout California. Contact him now to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation.