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What is Cognitive Processing Therapy?

Jennifer Long
Jennifer Long

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of cognitive-behavior therapy used to treat people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is most commonly used for war veterans, people who have witnessed a violent attack, and trauma victims, such as sexual assault victims. CPT combines aspects of cognitive therapy, clinical psychology, and psychotherapy. Therapy occurs in three main steps.

Step one of cognitive processing therapy involves learning about the PTSD symptoms that each individual experiences and how CPT will treat these symptoms. People will learn about how their anger, nightmares, and avoidance issues are related to the trauma, and how their life has been altered as a result. The relation between the memories and the symptoms must be understood so that patients gain the ability to allow therapy to help them get passed their emotional obstacles.

The goal of cognitive processing therapy is to reduce the patient's feelings of guilt and self-blame.
The goal of cognitive processing therapy is to reduce the patient's feelings of guilt and self-blame.

The second step in cognitive processing therapy is to become aware of all thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. Human beings often associate emotions with specific memories and when trauma is involved, these responses are often on a subconscious level. Feelings of fear, anger, guilt, and more are generally automatic responses to trauma. Being aware of the specific events that trigger these feelings helps PTSD sufferers take a step back and see how their responses affect their daily life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition that results from physical or emotional trauma.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition that results from physical or emotional trauma.

Writing is often therapeutic and part of the third step of cognitive processing therapy. Patients are advised to write about the event that occurred, detailing the point of trauma. This helps people bypass the need to avoid the topic and face it head on. Ultimately, the therapist’s goal is to reduce the guilt and self-blame while increasing the ability to accept what happened.

In many cases, exposure therapy is used as a part of cognitive processing therapy. This form of therapy involves exposing the patient to reminders of the trauma. Images, smells, and sounds are used to help patients confront their fears.

Cognitive processing therapy is used to treat victims of sexual assault.
Cognitive processing therapy is used to treat victims of sexual assault.

Stress inoculation training (SIT) is another type of therapy that may be used. Therapists use cues that show which things act as reminders. The patient can then learn how to manage symptoms that occur through techniques such as deep breathing. This particular type of therapy is usually beneficial for people who suffer from panic attacks as a symptom of PTSD.

Cognitive procession therapy can help people who suffer from panic attacks.
Cognitive procession therapy can help people who suffer from panic attacks.

The end goal of cognitive processing therapy is to help a person with PTSD learn about what they are experiencing so that behaviors and thinking can be changed. An average of 12 sessions is common to complete the process, but a therapist may recommend more depending on each individual case and how quickly progress occurs. Additionally, sessions may be one on one, in a group setting, or a combination of the two.

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    • The goal of cognitive processing therapy is to reduce the patient's feelings of guilt and self-blame.
      By: jedi-master
      The goal of cognitive processing therapy is to reduce the patient's feelings of guilt and self-blame.
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition that results from physical or emotional trauma.
      By: John Gomez
      Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition that results from physical or emotional trauma.
    • Cognitive processing therapy is used to treat victims of sexual assault.
      By: Monkey Business
      Cognitive processing therapy is used to treat victims of sexual assault.
    • Cognitive procession therapy can help people who suffer from panic attacks.
      By: Astrid Gast
      Cognitive procession therapy can help people who suffer from panic attacks.
    • Cognitive processing therapy can help people deal with feelings of anger.
      By: olly
      Cognitive processing therapy can help people deal with feelings of anger.