Cognitive Processing Therapy for Veterans, First Responders, and Survivors

Photo by v2osk on Unsplash

Cognitive Processing Therapy for Veterans, First Responders, and Survivors

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a specific type of cognitive therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (commonly referred to as PTSD). CPT is an evidence-based psychotherapy, which means it has passed a number of scientifically validated trials and been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD that have developed after experiencing a variety of traumatic events including combat, rape, or natural disasters. Certain individuals may be more predisposed to experience traumatic events. Military Servicemembers, Veterans, Police, Firefighters, and First Responders, by nature of their work, are often exposed to traumatic events while on duty. 

CPT is generally delivered over 12 sessions and helps patients learn how to question, challenge, and modify unhelpful thoughts, beliefs. or interpretations related to their traumatic events or experiences. In so doing, the patient creates an improved understanding and conceptualization of their traumatic experiences, which often reduces ongoing negative effects within their life.

Is CPT effective?

Cognitive processing therapy has been shown to be highly effective at reducing symptoms of PTSD in combat veterans and other individuals who have experienced traumatic events, including police officers, firefighters, first-responders, and victims of sexual assault and rape. A recent student examining prior CPT research showed:

  • CPT outperformed inactive control conditions by 89%. 
  • CPT outperformed other active treatments at the end of therapy.
  • CPT appears to benefit those with PTSD, regardless of age, treatment modality (group vs. individual therapy).
  • CPT is an effective PTSD Treatment with lasting benefits across a range of clinical outcomes.

Who is CPT right for?

There are very few contraindications for Cognitive Processing Therapy. Generally speaking, those considering CPT must be aware that any trauma-focused therapy might lead to some discomfort during therapy sessions. This is expected, as CPT will focus on thoughts and feelings that occurred during and after traumatic events. While CPT is not an exposure-based intervention for PTSD (like Prolonged Exposure or EMDR), some discussions of the traumatic event(s) is to be expected. PTSD can also overlap with other mental health problems. According to a 2020 study, addressing trauma in the face of other mental health challenges may reduce those symptoms as well. 

“The just-world belief holds that good things happen to good people, that bad things happen to bad people, and that the world should be a fair and just place. This belief emanates from the desire to find an orderly, cause-effect association between an individual’s behavior and the consequences of that behavior…this is a hard-wired, evolutionary need of humans to predict and control events in order to survive.”

– Resick, et al., Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD: A Comprehensive Manual, 2017
Font Resize