What is Cognitive Processing Therapy for Trauma and How Can it Help?
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a 12-week structured treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) based in foundational elements of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy. In treatment, we focus on:
- Constructing meaning of one’s traumatic experience(s) to understand why it occurred.
- Understanding how trauma impacts one’s beliefs about oneself, others, and the world at large.
- Identifying how best to readjust one’s beliefs to recognize more balanced and effective ways of thinking in the aftermath of trauma.
There is some flexibility with how treatment providers choose to conduct the therapy based on a client’s preference. Some clients benefit from processing their most troubling, intrusive trauma in writing in addition to processing the beliefs that may be inhibiting their recovery. Others find immense benefit from simply examining and readjusting their beliefs without reprocessing their traumatic experience in detail.
When going through CPT, therapy focuses on five specific themes that are dramatically affected for survivors of trauma, and which can make it hard for them to recover. These five themes are explored in relation to how someone views oneself, as well as others:
- Power and control
After a traumatic experience, you may consistently feel unsafe in the world, and perhaps unsafe in your own skin. You may experience difficulty staying in touch with your own body and mind. You may also feel a tendency to withdraw from people and surroundings that remind you of the traumatic event.
When you experience trauma, you may feel unable to trust your own judgment or others. In order to prevent further harm, you may adopt strong beliefs, such as “I cannot trust anyone” or “I’m not able to make sound decisions”.
Power and Control
Frequently, trauma survivors were powerless to prevent the experience they endured. As a result, it’s common to extend this belief to think “I am powerless over all aspects of life.” By contrast, some may develop the opposite belief that “I must be in control of my life [in order to prevent a traumatic event from happening again]”.
When a traumatic experience has resulted in a consistent feeling of not being safe, a distrust of yourself and others, and an extreme fear of being controlled by others, it is common to develop extremely low self-esteem and/or a low regard for other people.
When your life has been seriously threatened or harmed, especially by another human being, you are often left feeling extremely uneasy in connecting to others. Thus, you may want to withdraw from others entirely, or at least severely restrict your circle of relationships. Sometimes, the latter response can result in an unsustainable dependence on others.
There are specific sessions designated to cover each specific theme, and to help recognize negative beliefs that have been highlighted above known as “stuck points” that interfere in a person’s recovery from trauma.
Benefits of Cognitive Processing Therapy
Clients who have undergone CPT often report the following benefits:
- Insight as to how awful events can happen to good people.
- Decreased time and energy spent trying to exert unrealistic control over one’s life in efforts to prevent tragedies from re-occurring.
- More flexible (rather than rigid or extreme) beliefs, which in turn leads to flexible behaviors. For example, being able to trust some people, while recognizing how others may not be as trustworthy in certain domains (i.e. with secrets, money, fidelity, etc.).
- Acknowledgement of underlying sadness for what has been lost in their lives as a result of trauma.
- Open expression and processing of appropriate anger toward their perpetrator(s) of harm.
- Increased ability to forgive those who were incapable of stopping the trauma from occurring
- Increased ability to forgive themselves for not being able to prevent or change the outcome of the tragedy.
In therapy, we provide support and space to address these PTSD-related issues in a safe environment.
Cognitive Processing Therapy is a short-term therapy founded by Patricia Resick in 1988. Training and further research are conducted at Veterans Hospitals and outpatient clinics across the U.S. The treatment has been demonstrated in several studies to be clinically effective in as little as 10 sessions, with low dropout rates and high client satisfaction.
If you are ready to move past the suffering and rigid beliefs resulting from trauma, and move towards recovery, give us a call!
Melody Jazeb, LCSW is a Diplomate with the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, and specializes in providing Cognitive Behavior Therapy for people dealing with Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).