Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD

What is Cognitive Processing Therapy?

Cognitive Processing Therapy is a cognitive-behavioural treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Cognitive Processing Therapy was developed in the late 1980s and has been shown to be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms related to a variety of traumatic events including child abuse, combat, rape and natural disasters. Cognitive Processing Therapy is endorsed by the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defence, as well as the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies, as a best practice for the treatment of PTSD.

The theory behind Cognitive Processing Therapy outlines that most people have a reaction to traumatic events. In the CPT model PTSD occurs when something gets in the way of the natural recovery after trauma. In particular, beliefs about why the trauma happened can cause people to feel strong emotions. This can lead to avoidance of anything associated with the trauma and prevent clear thinking about the trauma. CPT focuses on how you understand the trauma and your experience after the trauma.

Cognitive Processing Therapy has shown to be an effective psychological treatment for PTSD across a variety of different types of trauma, and with multiple or complex traumatic experiences, such as combat, sexual assault, and refugees. It typically consists of 12 weekly sessions about 50 to 60 minutes.

What happens – what is the process of Cognitive Processing Therapy?

Over approximately 12 weekly therapy sessions clients under taking Cognitive Processing Therapy:

  • Learn about the common changes in beliefs that occur after going through trauma which can include beliefs about safety, trust, power/control, esteem, and intimacy.
  • Learn to identify and challenge unhelpful beliefs and thoughts.
  • learn to find a balance in the beliefs you may have had after your trauma.
  • Are asked to write about the impact of your traumatic experience(s).
  • May choose to write the story of their traumatic event(s).
  • Are asked to complete practice assignments outside of sessions to apply the learning from therapy.

What are the Goals of Cognitive Processing Therapy?


  • Increase your understanding about PTSD
  • Examine the impact of the trauma on beleifs/thoughts and feelings
  • Decrease avoidance and problems with experiencing positive emotions


  • Learn skills to evaluate thinking
  • Consider alternative viewpoints of the trauma, oneself and the world.


  • Reduce distress related to your memories of the trauma
  • Reduce feelings of anxiety, anger, guilt and shame
  • Improve day-to-day living