What is cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and how can it treat posttraumatic stress symptoms?

By Cassie Jelfs, Provisional Psychologist at PsychMed



Traumatic experiences can be something overwhelming or disturbing that threaten someone’s sense of safety or wellbeing or that of someone close to them. These could be events like car accidents, natural disasters, combat, assault or abuse. After experiencing something traumatic, people will often experience some posttraumatic stress symptoms, which can have psychological and physiological effects and make it hard to cope or function as usual. This can look very different between individuals, ranging from mild to debilitating and lasting in the short term to more chronic.

Trauma can negatively change someone’s belief systems or how they think about the world, themselves and other people, which can be detrimental. For example, they may start to believe that the world is dangerous, that people are untrustworthy, or blame themselves for traumatic experiences. In cognitive processing therapy (CPT), these beliefs are called ‘stuck points’ as they tend to keep people stuck with posttraumatic stress symptoms.

CPT is strongly recommended and one of the most effective treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder. It is a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy designed to treat trauma symptoms by targeting ‘stuck points’. CPT teaches clients new ways of handling distressing thoughts and feelings, and new skills to be able to think in more helpful and balanced ways. In CPT, clients learn to examine the facts of their beliefs and decide if some other ways of thinking or perspectives may be more helpful or make more sense.

CPT is a 12-session psychotherapy program that can be delivered individually or in a group. It incorporates learning about posttraumatic stress symptoms, thoughts and emotions before starting to understand and process the trauma’s impact on belief systems about self, others and the world. After this, the client will begin to learn skills to identify and address unhelpful ways of thinking. Specific areas of self-blame, safety, trust, power/control, esteem and intimacy will be targeted as trauma commonly affects these areas. The client will then practise these skills in their daily life to help improve their wellbeing and functioning. Once clients have completed the program, they have the tools, skills and knowledge to be their own therapists and keep practising and building on the skills to improve their quality of life and get ‘unstuck’.

PsychMed offers free CPT groups supported by funding from Adelaide PHN through the Australian Government’s PHN Program. If you would like more information, please call us at (08) 8232 2424 or visit https://psychmed.com.au/cognitive-processing-therapy-cpt-program/ 


American Psychological Association. (2017). Clinical practice guideline for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/ptsd.pdf

Resick, P. A., Monson, C. M., & Chard, K. M. (2016). Cognitive processing therapy for PTSD: A comprehensive manual. Guilford Publications.

American Psychological Association. (2022). Cognitive processing therapy (CPT). https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/cognitive-processing-therapy

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2022). Cognitive processing therapy for PTSD. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/cognitive_processing.asp