What Does Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) Treat?

In recent years, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) has gained popularity as an effective treatment for mental health disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The primary goal of this therapy is to help individuals identify and change dysfunctional thought patterns that contribute to their symptoms. This article delves into the effectiveness of CPT, the conditions it treats, and how it positively impacts individual lives.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Cognitive Processing Therapy
  2. Effectiveness of CPT
  3. Conditions Treated by CPT
  4. Stages of CPT
  5. Conclusion

Overview of Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that focuses on changing maladaptive thought patterns and beliefs related to trauma. Developed in the 1980s by psychologists Patricia Resick and Monica Schnicke, CPT helps individuals to better understand their traumatic experiences, recognize unhelpful thought patterns, and develop more balanced and adaptive ways of thinking.

The therapy typically consists of 12 to 16 sessions conducted on an individual or group basis. The sessions guide participants through a series of structured exercises aimed at promoting cognitive processing and emotional expression related to the trauma. By identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, those undergoing CPT can effectively reduce the frequency and intensity of their symptoms.

Effectiveness of CPT

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of CPT in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).


Several studies have shown that CPT is a highly effective treatment for PTSD. A meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials published in 2017 revealed that CPT led to significant improvements in PTSD symptoms, with moderate to large effect sizes. Additionally, the positive effects of CPT have been maintained at follow-up assessments, indicating its long-term benefits.

CPT for Depression and Anxiety

Research also supports the use of CPT for treating depression and anxiety disorders. In a 2013 study of individuals with depression, CPT was found to be as effective as other evidence-based treatments, such as pharmacotherapy and interpersonal therapy. Moreover, a 2016 meta-analysis found that CPT significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety, with a moderate effect size.

Conditions Treated by CPT

Cognitive Processing Therapy has been proven effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, including:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

In addition, preliminary research points to the potential efficacy of CPT for other disorders, such as eating disorders and substance use disorders.

Stages of CPT

Typically, Cognitive Processing Therapy is conducted in a structured, stepwise manner over 12 to 16 sessions. The therapy process can be divided into four main stages:

  1. Education and Preparation – The therapist provides an overview of CPT principles, trauma, and PTSD. Participants are encouraged to share their trauma narrative and discuss the impact of the event(s) on their lives.
  2. Identification of Thoughts and Emotions – Participants learn to identify the connections between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The therapist then helps them uncover any unhelpful thought patterns and negative beliefs related to the trauma.
  3. Challenging Negative Thoughts – Using evidence-based cognitive techniques, individuals learn to challenge and replace their negative thoughts with more balanced, adaptive ones.
  4. Integration and Growth – Participants work on integrating the new, healthier thought patterns into their daily lives. They also develop strategies to cope with future stressors and maintain their progress.

Importantly, the therapy process can be tailored to the individual’s needs, taking into account factors like the nature of the trauma, the severity of symptoms, and the presence of comorbid conditions.


In summary, Cognitive Processing Therapy has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. By targeting the dysfunctional thought patterns that contribute to these conditions, CPT empowers individuals to develop healthier ways of thinking and coping with life’s challenges. As research into the therapy continues to grow, it is likely that CPT will play an increasingly important role in the treatment and management of mental health conditions worldwide.

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