What Is Cognitive Processing Therapy?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 12, 2021

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy is designed to help people change and challenge their current beliefs about their trauma. Cognitive processing therapy has been effective in reducing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Different types of PTSD include: 

  • Child abuse
  • Active combat
  • Rape
  • Natural disasters
  • And other traumatic events

Why Is Cognitive Processing Therapy Important?

Cognitive processing therapy was found in the 80s and has been increasingly successful in treating people with PTSD. This type of therapy aims to give people tools to process trauma and understand their own emotions and thoughts. This helps people cope when they have traumatic triggers nearby

CPT can be done in a group or individual setting, and both have had success. There has been a lot of success with this therapy used on veterans

Understanding PTSD

To get diagnosed with PTSD, you must have all of the following for at least one month: 

At least one re-experiencing symptom. You may experience a racing heart, bad dreams, or scary thoughts. These can include flashbacks, reliving your trauma over and over. These symptoms could interrupt your everyday routine. The thoughts could be triggered by words, objects, or situations that remind you of your trauma. 

At least one avoidance symptom. This includes staying away from places, events, or objects that remind you of your traumatic experience. You may also avoid thoughts or feelings about the event. 

At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms. This includes being startled easily, feeling tense or “on edge,” having problems sleeping, or feeling angry out of nowhere. These symptoms are usually constant. They can be triggered by reminders of your trauma. 

At least two cognition and mood symptoms. You may not be able to remember the big moments of your traumatic event. You may start to feel negative about yourself or the world. You could feel guilt or blame for the event. A noticeable symptom is losing interest in things you used to enjoy. 

When you start to notice this behavior, you should consult a psychiatrist or therapist. They will be able to prescribe you the right treatment.

PTSD might not occur immediately after the traumatic event. Symptoms can appear weeks or months later. PTSD is commonly seen alongside depression, substance abuse, or one or more other anxiety disorders. 

Cognitive Processing Therapy and PTSD

CPT is more effective in adults but can be used for ages fourteen and older. It has been shown effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. This type of therapy has been used for people who have been a witness to violence or death, people who have been through physical and sexual abuse, accidents, threats, and military combat. 

In group and individual therapy, PTSD and depression symptoms were greatly reduced. This type of therapy helps you learn how to handle upsetting thoughts. You will also learn better ways to think about your trauma.

What to Expect in Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy is typically 12 weeks long. Sessions can last between 60 to 90 minutes. They can happen in groups or individually. Therapy is currently broken down into three phases. 

Phase one. Once you’ve been recommended for CPT, you will be assessed. This assessment will involve a PTSD diagnosis and treatment plan.

Phase two. This part of the treatment focuses on consistent education on how to cope with your trauma. Your therapist may have to help you learn new coping strategies for having self-worth and confidence. 

Phase three. In this phase, you will process your trauma. Your therapist will help you identify, react, and overcome negative talk. You will also identify points in your trauma that you get stuck on and can’t move past. These are themes, like beliefs around safety, trust, power, and control.

Finally, you will review your progress with your psychiatrist. They can help you plan for preventing a relapse. That would be the end of your program.

Finding Help

Cognitive processing therapy is very beneficial for helping people overcome and cope with their traumatic experiences. If you have experienced a traumatic event and are having PTSD symptoms, you should contact your doctor. A mental health professional can also help find the best treatment for you.

Show Sources


Arkansas Building Effective Services for Trauma: “Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).”



National Institute of Mental Health: “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Psychological Reports: “Effectiveness of Cognitive Processing Therapy and Prolonged Exposure in the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Psychology Trauma: “Individual and group cognitive process therapy: Effectiveness across two Veterans Affairs posttraumatic stress disorder treatment clinics.”

Uniformed Services University: “Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT).”

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD.”

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