Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD

CPT can help you get unstuck from thoughts about your trauma.

Cognitive processing therapy for PTSD

Verywell / Lara Antal

Cognitive processing therapy, also known as CPT, is a cognitive-behavioral treatment focused on helping people who are "stuck" in their thoughts about a trauma. It is one of the most effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The treatment takes 12 sessions.


Cognitive processing therapy was developed by Dr. Patricia Resick and other psychologists to treat the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among people who had experienced a sexual assault. Today it's widely used in the treatment of PTSD.

CPT is based on the idea that PTSD symptoms stem from a conflict between pre-trauma beliefs about the self and world (for example, the belief that nothing bad will happen to me or that the world is a safe place) and post-trauma information (for example, the traumatic event is evidence that the world is a dangerous and hazardous place). These conflicts are called "stuck points" and are addressed through, among other techniques, writing about the traumatic event.

Similar to exposure therapy for PTSD, cognitive processing therapy provides patients with information on PTSD and helps them confront unpleasant memories and thoughts associated with a traumatic event. In CPT, the patient is asked to write about his or her traumatic event in detail and is then instructed to read the story aloud repeatedly in and outside of sessions. The therapist helps the client identify and address stuck points and ​errors in thinking, which may include, for example, "I am a bad person" or "I did something to deserve this." The therapist may help the patient address these errors or stuck points by having the client gather evidence for and against those thoughts.

How It Works

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there are four main parts of cognitive processing therapy. They have to do with:

  • Your PTSD symptoms. Learning about your specific PTSD symptoms and the benefits of treatment on them is the first step of CPT.
  • Your thoughts and feelings. You'll learn to become more aware of what you think and feel about your trauma and how you may be "stuck" in beliefs that are hurting you.
  • New skills. You'll learn how to question and challenge these thoughts and feelings and explore how you would prefer to think about the trauma.
  • Changes in your beliefs. You'll learn about how it's common for a person's thoughts and beliefs about the world to change after a trauma, and you'll find out how to balance the way you saw the world before and the way you see it now.

Your treatment will probably consist of twelve 60-minute sessions once or twice a week. These will either take place in a group setting or alone.

The Difference Between CPT and Exposure Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy is somewhat different from exposure therapy for PTSD. Although exposure therapy helps people confront memories or thoughts about a traumatic event, it doesn't always assist people in addressing these errors in thinking. CPT therapists have people confront feared thoughts and memories associated with a traumatic event, as well as assist patients in connecting with corrective information for maladaptive, unrealistic or problematic thoughts that may be driving PTSD symptoms.

How to Find a CPT Therapist

If you are interested in receiving CPT, there are a number of helpful provider locator search engines on the internet that can help you find a treatment provider in your area. You can also learn more about CPT from the National Center for PTSD and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

If you're a veteran, CPT services are now available through the VA. The VA's Office of Mental Health Services has trained VA therapists nationwide to use CPT in treatment for PTSD. Talk to your VA health care provider about incorporating CPT into your PTSD treatment plan.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wachen JS, Dondanville KA, Young-McCaughan S, et al. Testing a variable-length Cognitive Processing Therapy intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder in active duty military: Design and methodology of a clinical trialContemp Clin Trials Commun. 2019;15:100381. doi:10.1016/j.conctc.2019.100381

  2. US Department of Veteran Affairs. Cognitive processing therapy: helping during treatment.

Additional Reading
  • Resick, P.A., & Calhoun, K.S. (292). Posttraumatic stress disorder. In D.H. Barlow (Ed.), Clinical handbook of psychological disorders, 3rd edition (pp. 60-113). New York, NY: Guilford Press.