What Is Cognitive Processing Therapy?

Cognitive processing therapy can help people recover from PTSD and other related conditions. But what is it, and how does it work? Find out at HealthyPlace.

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a branch of cognitive behavioral therapy commonly used to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). CPT can be conducted in one-to-one or group therapy, and it is thought to be most effective for those who have experienced repeated trauma, such as military personnel or those who work in the emergency services. Cognitive processing therapy can help you learn strategies to challenge or modify unhelpful thoughts and work through the specific events of your trauma.

How Does Cognitive Processing Therapy Work?

Cognitive processing therapy is a structured, manualized form of therapy designed to treat the individual needs of patients suffering from PTSD and/or depression. Treatment can be provided either short-term (10-12 sessions) or long-term (over several months or years).

CPT aims to help you identify connections between trauma-related thoughts, feelings and behaviors so you can explore how traumatic events have affected your life. Therapy may involve remembering the traumatic event and challenging maladaptive thoughts that go along with it. Your therapist will help you identify unhelpful thinking patterns and find new ways to reframe them.

CPT works on the principle that trauma isn't "cured." With the help of a therapist, however, patients can learn to manage their trauma and develop coping techniques. This approach is helpful for people with PTSD who often feel like failures because they cannot unhook from traumatic memories. CPT isn't about "achieving" recovery or beating the illness; it simply aims to help trauma sufferers adjust their thoughts and behavior in triggering situations.

What Are Stuck Points in Cognitive Processing Therapy?

In cognitive processing therapy, stuck points are thoughts that keep you from recovering. These thoughts are normally rooted in beliefs that are not 100% accurate, such as “If I let others get close, then I will get hurt.” They also tie in with "black and white thinking," which is a cognitive distortion identified in CBT. Black and white thinking means seeing something as "all good" or "all bad." For example: "Everything that happened to me is my fault" or "I ruin every date I go on."

Stuck points are barriers to your recovery. One of the main goals of CPT is to identify stuck points so you and your therapists can begin to dismantle them. Deployment Psych has a helpful cognitive processing therapy worksheet on stuck points, which you can download.

Where to Find Cognitive Processing Worksheets

Cognitive processing therapy is generally not recommended for those who struggle with literacy, as it does involve written work. If you see a CPT therapist, he or she will most likely assign you homework in the form of journaling exercises or cognitive processing therapy worksheets.

Although there are plenty of books and resources out there for those who are interested in CPT, this mode of therapy is only advised for those who have received a diagnosis of PTSD. Cognitive processing therapy is most effective when it is practiced by a medical professional who specializes in cognitive behavioral techniques.

If you are a veteran or active-duty military, you may find the CPT Web portal helpful, as it contains information about CPT and free, downloadable worksheets. It is recommended that you work through these with a qualified therapist, however, and not on your own.

You can find detailed information on PTSD on HealthyPlace. In addition, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has plenty of information about PTSD for sufferers and their loved ones. Here, you can find information about posttraumatic stress disorder, as well as links to therapists and other support networks. You can also call the Veterans Crisis Line on 1-800-273-8255 (press 1).

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, August 19). What Is Cognitive Processing Therapy?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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