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Healing Trauma with Cognitive Processing Therapy

Are you struggling to cope with life after a traumatic experience? Then Cognitive Processing Therapy may be the right solution for you. This type of cognitive behavior therapy helps you to reclaim your life after a traumatic event.  From completing written tasks to learning more about PTSD, there is a range of useful components that make up CBT sessions.

Cognitive Processing Therapy: What is it?

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) can assist you to transform unhelpful beliefs that are linked to a traumatic experience. CPT is a kind of cognitive behavioral treatment that is used specifically to relieve the symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). CPT typically takes twelve sessions with a qualified therapist. These sessions are usually 60 to 90 minutes each and they are typically held weekly over a period of three months. The process has also been adapted so that it can be offered in a group setting with eight to ten people. Group sessions are usually 90 to 120 minutes long and they’re typically run by two therapists. During therapy, you can expect to gain a new perspective on the traumatic event that you experienced. This trauma-focused therapy plays a role in reducing the negative impact that the event has on your life.

Cognitive Processing Therapy Theory

Social cognitive theory influenced the development of CPT. This theory explains how fear networks develop as well as how emotional responses are created after you experience a trauma. This theory concentrates on people’s perception of a traumatic event and their ability to cope with life after their traumatic experience. The theory explores how people can regain a feeling of control over their lives after a trauma has taken place. Social cognitive theory splits emotions into two categories of primary and secondary emotions. After a traumatic experience, people may experience feelings of fear, which is considered a primary emotion according to this theory. The person’s interpretation of their experience and their primary emotions can lead to secondary emotions, such as guilt and shame. According to this theory, once people learn how to examine their unhelpful interpretations of their experience, it may relieve them of these secondary emotions.

How Does Cognitive Processing Therapy Suggest the Mind Works?

You may find yourself thinking about yourself and the world around you differently after you have experienced a traumatic event. Many victims of traumatic experiences blame themselves for what happened to them. In other cases, people start to view the world as unsafe. These thoughts can have negative consequences on your life and cause you to withdraw from the activities that you enjoyed taking part in before your traumatic experience. Cognitive Processing therapy suggests that you can learn skills that can help you to change these unhelpful thoughts.

How Does Cognitive Processing Therapy Cause Change?

If you find that you’re suffering from upsetting thoughts following a traumatic event, CPT can help you to develop the skills that you need to change your thoughts. The techniques that are used in CPT show you how to check whether or not your thoughts are validated by facts. You’ll also gain a better understanding of the connection between your thoughts and emotions during your sessions. This treatment helps you to identify the automatic thoughts that may be resulting in the continuation of your PTSD symptoms. Therapists may address issues of safety and trust with the aim of helping you to improve the quality of your life. Power and control are other aspects of your life which the therapist may explore during your sessions. Likewise, self-esteem and intimacy may also be negatively impacted by a traumatic event.

What Happens in a Cognitive Processing Therapy Session?

You can expect your therapist to explain more about CBT during your first session. Your therapist will usually begin by helping you to understand PTSD and its symptoms better. They’ll also ask you to provide some information on the traumatic incident that took place without asking you to go into details initially. The initial session helps to build a feeling of trust between you and your therapist. It also helps to create a safe space where you feel comfortable exploring traumatic memories as well as the thoughts and the emotions that are associated with them. During the following sessions, you’ll explore the effect that the trauma has had on your life and learn skills to change any unhelpful thoughts that are associated with the traumatic incident.

Techniques Used in Cognitive Processing Therapy

Writing activities and worksheets are useful techniques that are used as part of CPT. You’ll be asked to compile an impact statement which elaborates on your present understanding of why the traumatic experience took place. The statement also needs to include how this experience has changed your beliefs about yourself as well as your thoughts about the world. Another aspect of the impact statement is how the traumatic experience has influenced your relationships with other people, such as your relationships with your friends and family. This exercise helps you and your therapist to gain a better understanding of how trauma has impacted your life.

If your therapist thinks it will be helpful for you, they may ask you to write about the details of the trauma. However, in some instances, it may not be helpful to go into details about your traumatic experience. You can expect to identify and examine the thoughts that you associate with the trauma during your CPT sessions. Your therapist will facilitate the exploration of these thoughts using Socratic questioning as well as other techniques. During this process, you’ll learn the skills that you need to identify and change unhelpful thoughts so that you can continue to benefit from CPT outside of your sessions. An important part of Cognitive Processing Therapy is the homework that you’ll need to complete after the sessions. The techniques that you learn during the sessions can help you to process any emotions that are associated with the trauma, which may include anger and sadness. Guilt is another emotion that is associated with traumatic incidences.

Does Cognitive Processing Therapy Work?

Cognitive Processing Therapy has shown to be effective in the treatment of people who are suffering from PTSD. The U.S Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defence support the use of CBT. This type of therapy is also recognized by the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies.

What Kinds of Concerns is Cognitive Processing Therapy Best For?

Cognitive Processing Therapy is particularly useful in the treatment of PTSD. While you’ll need a medical health professional to diagnose PTSD, you can gain a better understanding of your experience by understanding the symptoms of PTSD. One characteristic of PTSD is unsettling memories of your traumatic experience which may come in the form of flashbacks or nightmares. You may feel emotionally numb and try to stay away from anything that triggers memories of the traumatic event. Other symptoms of PTSD are insomnia, irritability, and restlessness.

If you’ve been the victim of child abuse or rape, CPT sessions could play a role in helping you to heal from the trauma that is associated with these experiences. Soldiers and people who have been affected by war can also benefit from CPT sessions. This type of therapy is useful in dealing with the trauma that is experienced by the survivors of natural disasters.  If there is a high risk that you are going to be exposed to additional traumatic events, CBT may be particularly useful. This means that soldiers and emergency workers who have to cope with continuous exposure to trauma may benefit from this type of treatment. Other careers that are associated with increased exposure to trauma include firefighters and police officers. If you haven’t been diagnosed with PTSD, Cognitive Processing Therapy may not be the most beneficial treatment for you. CBT involves the completion of written tasks so if you struggle with literacy, then it is advisable to try Prolonged Exposure Therapy instead.

How Are Cognitive Processing Therapy Specialists Trained?

Cognitive Processing Therapy Specialists are usually mental health providers who have completed additional training so that they can specialize in CPT. There are educational institutions that offer training as well as workshops in this type of therapy. Manuals have been compiled to offer mental health providers guidance on how to use CPT with their clients.

Concerns/Limitations of Cognitive Processing Therapy

A concern about Cognitive Processing Therapy is that it may be challenging for you to provide the therapist with details about your traumatic experience. Writing and talking about your trauma is likely to bring up strong emotions that may be difficult to deal with. Some critics have suggested that writing about the traumatic event may be re-traumatizing rather than healing. If you are worried about having to write about your traumatic experience, it’s advisable to discuss your concerns with your therapist. You can do a type of CPT that involves addressing your feelings and emotions that are associated with the trauma rather than going into the details of the traumatic experience. Another limitation on CPT is that its success relies on the completion of written tasks outside of the therapy sessions. If you aren’t able or willing to complete these assignments, then CPT may not be an effective option in the treatment of your trauma.

Important Practitioners in Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy was formed in the late 1980’s drawing from P. J. Lang’s informational processing theory. Lang suggested that PTSD is the outcome of traumatic memories that lead to emotions of fear as well as avoidance behaviors. This means that when you are confronted with a stimulus after a traumatic event, it triggers a fear response. A likely outcome of these emotions and memories is an attempt to escape the feelings of fear. Instead of avoidance behaviors reliving the fear, they play a role in sustaining the fear. Lang believed that when a person is subjected to the traumatic memories in a supportive environment, it helps them to cope with the fear, which reduces the influence that this emotion has on their lives.

How to Find a Therapist

You can search google to find a mental health professional who specializes in CPT. Once you have a list of therapists it is advisable to review their information to find one who best meets your requirements. Another option is to ask your doctor to refer you to a suitable therapist.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Check that the therapist has the right qualifications and training to provide you with CPT. It’s advisable to use the services of a mental health practitioner who is registered with a relevant professional body. You may also want to pick a therapist who specializes in working with clients that have the same specific concerns as you. Empathy and confidentiality are two vital characteristics of any mental health professional so it’s important to pick a therapist who displays these qualities. You can check on your therapist’s ethical standards by making sure that they don’t have any complaints laid against them.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

  • What qualifications do you have?
  • How can Cognitive Processing Therapy benefit me?
  • Do you have experience treating PTSD?
  • What is your availability?
  • What is your cancellation policy?

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  1. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/cognitive_processing_therapy.asp
  2. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/cognitive-processing-therapy.aspx
  3. https://cptforptsd.com/
  4. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/cognitive-processing-therapy
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_processing_therapy
  6. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/cognitive-processing-therapy
  7. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms
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