Cognitive Processing Therapy


Category: Allied Health Options

What is it?

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) was developed as a treatment specific for rape victims with PTSD. It is an exposure and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)-based application designed to reduce PTSD symptoms and to challenge unhelpful thoughts that can prevent recovery from traumatic experiences. It consists of 12 sessions that can be classed according to four core phases: psycho-education, exposure, CBT techniques and closure.

How does it work?

CPT can be viewed as a combination of exposure and cognitive therapy. Like exposure therapy, the client is asked to write about and read their accounts of the event. This exercise focuses the patient on feared memories and encourages emotional processing. Ultimately it allows client’s fears to adjust, and reduces the extent to which these memories are viewed as threatening and fearful.

CPT addresses this problem by teaching clients how to recognise faulty thinking patterns and cope with negative emotions.

Is it effective?

Research findings show that CPT is effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD. A study published in 2005 found CPT was more effective in reducing PTSD symptoms associated with childhood sexual abuse when compared with medical attention given to the wait-listed control group. In a more recent trial, clients who received CPT had statistically significant reduction in scores measuring PTSD.

Apart from clients with a history of sexual abuse, CPT was effective in other parts of the population with PTSD such as refugees in a community setting and veterans with military related-trauma.

Are there any disadvantages?

There is no evidence to suggest disadvantages associated with CPT. However, as CPT is often viewed as combined exposure and cognitive therapies, it may have the disadvantages of both treatments. It is also important to consider that certain clients are more likely to benefit from cognitive therapy, such as those who can identify intrusive thoughts and are less rigid with their thinking.

Where do you get it?

Cognitive processing therapy can only be administered by a registered mental health professional trained in CPT.

What are the evidence limitations?

In one of the studies reviewed, the reduction of symptoms cannot be solely attributed to CPT, as it was only part of the treatment. Most studies have small sample sizes which could limit the general application of results.


In light of the evidence presented, cognitive processing therapy may be considered for those diagnosed with PTSD.

Key References

Chard KM 2005, ‘An evaluation of cognitive processing therapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder related to childhood sexual abuse’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 73, no. 5, pp. 965-971.

Monson CM, Schmurr PP, et al 2006, ‘Cognitive processing therapy for veterans with military related posttraumatic stress disorder’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 74, no. 5, pp. 898-907.

Schulz PM, Resick PA, Huber LC, Griffin MG 2006, ‘The effectiveness of cognitive processing therapy for PTSD with refugees in a community setting’, Cognitive and Behavioural Practice, vol. 13, pp. 322-331.

Zappert LN, Westrup D 2008, ‘Cognitive processing therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in a residential treatment setting’, Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 361-376.

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