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Mental Health

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Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for PTSD

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Some people who experience trauma may struggle with memories and thoughts about the event. They may have a hard time making sense of what happened. They may want to avoid thinking about the trauma or encountering things that remind them of the trauma. While it may feel better momentarily, avoidance of the trauma can keep you stuck from recovering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thus, the most effective treatments for PTSD focus on the trauma and involve talking about it.

In Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), PTSD is believed to occur when something gets in the way of the natural recovery after a trauma. In particular, your beliefs about why the trauma happened can cause you to feel strong emotions. This can lead to avoidance of the trauma and prevent clear thinking about the trauma. CPT focuses on how your thinking has been impacted by the trauma and teaches you to take a look at your thoughts and help you progress toward recovery.

CPT is effective in treating PTSD across a variety of populations, including Veterans, sexual assault victims, and refugees. It typically consists of 12 weekly sessions and can be offered in an individual or a group format. Sessions last about 50 to 60 minutes when delivered individually and 90 minutes when delivered in a group. The therapy is appropriate for individuals with a PTSD diagnosis.

Goals of CPT


  • Improve your understanding about PTSD
  • Examine the impact of the trauma on 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

Process of CPT

What will I be doing in CPT?

Over approximately 12 weekly therapy sessions:

  • You will 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
  • You will learn to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts
  • You will learn to find a better balance between the beliefs you had before and after your trauma.
  • You will be asked to write about the impact of your traumatic experience(s).
  • You may choose to write the story of your traumatic event(s).
  • You will be asked to complete regular take-home practice assignments to apply what you are learning in therapy.

*This treatment may not be available at every VHA point of care. Please check with your VA provider.


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