What Is Cognitive Processing Therapy?

Updated February 23, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

There are many different types of therapies designed to help people, and one therapy we will be looking at today is cognitive processing therapy, shortened to CPT. What is it? How can it help people? What can you expect from a typical session? Let's find out.

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What Is Cognitive Processing Therapy?

CPT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a technique used a lot by counselors and therapists. In it, a person takes negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their anxiety, stress, or another problem they're having, and replace them with more positive thoughts and actions. Like cognitive behavior therapy, CPT also involves changing behaviors.

CPT is mostly used for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD usually comes as the result of childhood or military trauma, but it can be caused by other incidents as well. CPT is longer and involves 12 or more sessions. The goal of it is to change beliefs and behaviors one has about their trauma. The goal is for the patient to conceptualize the problem and help them to reduce its negative effects.

How CPT Treats PTSD

To figure out how CPT works, first, we should look at what PTSD is. PTSD is what can happen after a traumatic event. You may be feeling fine one second, and the next second, something triggers your PTSD, and you have panic attacks, anxiety, guilt, nightmares, or a slew of other negative emotions. You may have flashbacks to the event, and this can make your problems a whole lot worse.

Some people, to fix their PTSD, try to avoid their trauma altogether. They may isolate themselves from the world because many aspects of life remind them of the trauma they have experienced. While avoiding trauma can be a good thing, often, this can cause isolation and be counterproductive.

Sometimes, PTSD can result in changes in behavior. They can turn your emotions and intensify them, or make you react much differently than what you originally did. For example, if you were a calm person, you may be angrier. If you were careful with your driving, you might drive more recklessly. If you were a super-focused person, then you may end up being distracted. If you were a heavy sleeper, you might have a hard time falling to sleep as a result. You may experience mood swings as well. One second, you'll be happy, and the next you'll be depressed. It can range from mild depression to feeling like you want to commit suicide. You may lose interest in activities or find a relationship harder to maintain.

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As you can see, PTSD is challenging. No matter what your trauma is, you may feel like your life won't go back to normal and that you'll never be able to move on. However, this is simply not the case. There are ways for you to be able to move on from your trauma, or at least learn how to cope with it. This is where CPT works.

First, the treatment involves education. A person may know what PTSD is, but they may not realize just how it works. They may not know the strong relationship between their thoughts and their feelings, and they may not realize that there are thoughts that can play automatically in one's mind. These thoughts can come at any time and trigger your PTSD.

For them to be able to treat their PTSD, they will write an impact statement. This statement tells why the event in question happened, and how it affected their lives. Not just themselves, but the others around them as well as the world itself.

After that's over, now it's time for an even more detailed written assessment about the trauma. They will write and explain their worst experience with the trauma, and then look over it later. This can help them try to figure out how they can take the thoughts and emotions associated with said trauma and be able to break them. There are other questions the therapist may ask to find the thoughts a patient is experiencing about the trauma to defeat the unhelpful actions and thoughts they have. An example of a bad thought is one that blames themselves for the trauma instead of something beyond their control.

Then, the goal is to help the patient be able to identify problematic and unhelpful thoughts that can hold them back. Once they have identified them, they will then be able to try to change them into more helpful thoughts. The goal is to help the patient change how they approach themselves to improve their quality of living. They may look at all the factors that can affect their lives, such as the patient's power, safety, intimacy, and other emotions.

As we'll discuss in a bit, CPT can be group or individual. There will be assignments involved as well. The goal of CPT is to make the patient slowly adapt to better habits and thoughts to help treat their PTSD and manage it better.

The Parts Of CPT

CPT can be divided into four different parts that are essential to the therapy. These parts include:

Education. In this part, the goal is to educate the patient about their PTSD. Odds are, there is something they do not know about their trauma that may be able to help them.

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Informing. In this one, the goal is to explain to the client about their feelings and thoughts. When one is going through PTSD, they may be having problems with being able to figure out just what their thoughts and feelings are. A counselor can help them realize just what that is.

Imparting. In this one, the therapist helps to give different skills and techniques to the patient that can help them be able to take on their thoughts and feelings and challenge them.

Helping. Finally, the goal of this is to help the patient be able to look at the changes in behavior that have happened as a result of PTSD.

How A CPT Individual Session Works

If you're going into a CPT session, you may wonder how they are structured. Like a normal therapy session, it's about an hour, and weekly, or twice a week. There are usually 12 or more sessions. Like therapy, there may be "assignments" given to the patient to help them.

CPT is divided into two formats, CPT and CPT-C.

In CPT, the patient writes the account of their trauma, and it is discussed. In addition to that, there are cognitive techniques that are practiced. CPT-C does not have the part where the patient writes the trauma and instead involves the techniques.

How A Group Session Works

Some people prefer group therapy over individual therapy. This is because group therapy involves people who have gone through the same trauma as you have all working together to find their answers. Group therapy, like individual therapy, will consist of 12 or more sessions, but they are longer. They can range from one and a half to two hours, and the group is about eight to ten. Two therapists may be used for the session to make sure everyone gets equal and enough time to express themselves. Like individual therapy, there are assignments given.

Group CPT is divided into three formats this time. There is CPT, CPT-C, and another format.

CPT is just like the individual version, with an account of the trauma of the person. The details about the trauma are not shared, making it confidential, but the reactions a client has will be looked at with the group.

CPT-C is the same. It gets rid of the written part.

Then, there is a format that combines group and individual. This will involve one-on-one assignments and group discussions. This is for the person who wants the best of both worlds when it comes to being treated.

Which format would be the best for you? It all depends on who you are. Some people don't want to disclose their trauma, while others may believe that they need to share their trauma to get over with. Some like the company of a group who works together to achieve their goal, while others may want the one-on-one experience. There is no wrong choice; there is just the individual choice.

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In Conclusion

PTSD can be a challenge to go through. If you're going through it, just realize that it's not your fault, and you can move past your trauma. While some trauma can heal with time, other times, you may need professional help if you want to deal with your trauma in a way that is effective. Talk to a counselor today and see how they can help you. Odds are, you can improve your outlook on life and be able to have better handling of your trauma. Talk to someone today.


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