Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a specialized form of cognitive behavioral therapy developed specifically to address the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related conditions. Created by Patricia Resick in the 1980s, CPT is grounded in the understanding that traumatic events can alter one’s beliefs about oneself, others, and the world, leading to persistent PTSD symptoms. CPT focuses on helping individuals reassess and challenge these maladaptive beliefs to facilitate healing and recovery.

Understanding Cognitive Processing Therapy

CPT is based on the notion that the impact of trauma extends beyond the initial emotional and physiological responses, affecting an individual’s thoughts and beliefs. These altered cognitions can contribute to the ongoing symptoms of PTSD, such as intrusive memories, avoidance, and hyperarousal. CPT aims to identify and modify these unhelpful beliefs through a structured therapeutic process.

Core Components of CPT

  • Education about PTSD: CPT begins with educating clients about PTSD symptoms and the therapy’s rationale, setting the stage for understanding their experiences within a cognitive framework.
  • Identification of “Stuck Points”: “Stuck points” are rigid, maladaptive thoughts related to the trauma that hinder recovery. CPT helps individuals identify these points.
  • Challenging Maladaptive Beliefs: Through Socratic questioning and other cognitive techniques, clients are encouraged to challenge and modify their stuck points.
  • Writing Assignments: Clients are often asked to write about their traumatic experiences and the impact on their beliefs, facilitating deeper insight and cognitive restructuring.
  • Skill Development: CPT teaches skills for recognizing and challenging unhelpful thought patterns in various contexts, promoting generalization beyond trauma-specific thoughts.

Benefits and Application

CPT has been empirically validated as an effective treatment for PTSD across diverse populations, including military veterans, sexual assault survivors, and individuals who have experienced various traumatic events. Benefits of CPT include:

  • Reduction in PTSD Symptoms: Many individuals experience a significant decrease in the severity of their PTSD symptoms.
  • Improved Mood and Functioning: Clients often report improvements in mood, self-esteem, and daily functioning.
  • Increased Cognitive Flexibility: CPT fosters a more flexible approach to thinking, allowing individuals to adopt more adaptive perspectives.
  • Enhanced Coping Strategies: The skills learned in CPT enhance clients’ ability to cope with future stressors and trauma reminders.

Who Can Benefit from CPT?

CPT is designed for individuals suffering from symptoms of PTSD or who experience significant distress related to traumatic events. It is suitable for adults and older adolescents, regardless of the type or timing of the trauma experienced.

Training and Practice

Practitioners of CPT typically include psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and licensed professional counselors who have undergone specialized training in CPT techniques and principles. Effective delivery of CPT requires a thorough understanding of cognitive-behavioral principles, trauma-informed care, and the unique challenges faced by individuals with PTSD.


Cognitive Processing Therapy offers a structured, evidence-based approach to addressing the complex aftermath of traumatic experiences. By focusing on the modification of maladaptive beliefs and enhancing cognitive flexibility, CPT empowers individuals to overcome the debilitating effects of trauma, paving the way for recovery and resilience.