Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is an evidence-based treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related conditions.

CPT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps a person think about an event and challenge their current perspectives surrounding trauma. For many, it can help reduce their PTSD symptoms.

This article reviews what cognitive processing therapy is, its possible uses, and more.

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CPT is a treatment for PTSD. The therapy often involves 12 sessions that help a person challenge and reframe their ways of thinking about trauma.

The treatment aims to help a person develop new conceptualizations of trauma that may help improve their current life. A person can examine their thoughts and determine if facts support these thoughts or challenge them.

Learn more about living with psychological trauma.

Mental health professionals may recommend CPT to treat PTSD or related conditions.

A person can develop PTSD due to a variety of life events. Some examples include:

Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. However, estimates suggest that about 6% of the United States population will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime.

Read more about the causes of PTSD.

Exposure therapy is a technique that helps reduce the symptoms of PTSD, phobias, and other mental health conditions by introducing triggering stimuli in a safe environment.

This allows a person to work on the following:

CPT is a similar therapy that does not rely on exposing a person to their triggers directly. Instead, they work with a mental health professional to challenge and modify unhelpful thoughts about their trauma.

According to a 2022 study, both techniques are effective for treating PTSD. The researchers noted that exposure therapy was slightly more helpful than CPT in their findings, but the difference was not clinically significant.

They recommend that the person and the mental health professional work together to determine which method may be the most effective.

Learn more about exposure therapy.

CPT typically occurs over 12 sessions with a mental health professional. Some of the techniques involved include the following:


The first step of CPT generally involves psychoeducation. This involves learning more about PTSD, emotions, and thoughts.

Part of psychoeducation is learning about how thoughts and feelings interact. A person can then start to recognize and label automatic thoughts or other thoughts that may be contributing to PTSD symptoms.

To do this, they often write an impact statement that describes their understanding of why the traumatic event occurred. They can then explore how their experience may have changed their beliefs about the world, others, or themselves.

Changing beliefs

Over the next few sessions, the person begins to write more about the event and their feelings. They then read the statement at their session, which may help break a pattern of avoiding feelings and thoughts associated with the trauma.

The mental health professional will help them question any unhelpful or maladapted thoughts and feelings associated with the traumatic event.

Mental health professionals will help a person use facts to question current beliefs about the trauma they experienced and thoughts and feelings that may have developed around it and in everyday life.

Learning new skills

The final stages of CPT involve learning new skills and applying them outside therapy sessions. If necessary, the person continues to learn to identify unhelpful thinking patterns and feelings and further adapts their thinking about the traumatic event.

Adaptive strategies often aim to improve several aspects of quality of life. Sessions and techniques may focus on areas such as:

A mental health professional may provide homework assignments to help a person better understand adaptive skills.

CPT provides effective therapy for many people living with PTSD.

It can help reshape thinking patterns and feelings regarding the event and allow people to develop coping strategies to help deal with emotions and thoughts that may occur due to past trauma.

The therapy may help improve a person’s quality of life across several areas, including:

  • emotional intimacy and personal relationships
  • feelings of trust
  • self-esteem
  • a sense of control

Researchers generally find that CPT is a good treatment option for PTSD.

A 2019 analysis of 11 studies concluded that CPT can provide effective PTSD treatment. A 2022 study found that it was slightly less effective than exposure therapy, but the difference was negligible.

Both forms of therapy can provide effective relief of PTSD symptoms. Research suggests it is best for mental health professionals to approach treating each case of PTSD based on what will likely work best for the individual.

The following sections provide answers to common questions about CPT.

What is the difference between CBT and CPT?

CBT and CPT are similar therapeutic approaches. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes CPT as a specific form of CBT.

Both approaches seek to challenge how a person thinks, feels, and responds to help them develop healthier thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, if necessary.

CPT is specific to treating cases of PTSD and similar disorders. Mental health professionals may use CBT to treat a wider variety of conditions.

What is the difference between CPT and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and CPT both help treat PTSD and involve a similar number of sessions. EMDR involves using specific eye movements or other stimulations during these sessions.

Unlike CPT, the goal of EMDR is not to change how a person thinks or feels about the event that caused their PTSD symptoms. Instead, it helps retrain how the brain stores memory to reduce symptoms of PTSD.

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Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of psychotherapy that may help people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) improve their quality of life.

The aim of this treatment is to help a person understand how they think and feel about a trauma they experienced. This may allow them to challenge and adjust any associated thinking patterns and feelings that are causing difficulty in their everyday lives.

Experts generally consider CPT an effective and safe therapy to treat PTSD.