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In the Spotlight

PTSD and Cognitive Processing Therapy

Contributed by Carrie Rodgers, Associate Director, Education and Dissemination VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health

group of people talking about ptsd outside in a circleMany people have gone through a traumatic event. Usually, right after a trauma, most people are upset. For many, their distress naturally gets better. They seem to recover from the trauma without needing extra help. However, some do not get better and are later diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Cognitive Processing Therapy is a treatment that is helpful for many Veterans who have had trouble recovering from PTSD and other problems.

In Cognitive Processing Therapy, the Veteran meets with their therapist 12 times. Meetings can be scheduled alone with the therapist. Meetings can also be with a group of other Veterans who have experienced trauma. During the meeting, the therapist and the Veteran work together. The goal is to determine what got in the way of the Veteran getting better from the trauma, or what got the Veteran "stuck" in the process of recovery. As part of therapy, new skills are practiced outside of each session. This may be done with the help of worksheets and handouts. The therapist helps the Veteran meet his/her goals in treatment. The more these skills are practiced, the faster the person may begin to feel better.

group of men in therapyIn the beginning of therapy, the Veteran learns about PTSD. They explore how traumatic events have impacted his/her life. Next, they learn about connections between the way they think about the trauma and how it relates to their feelings and behaviors. Even though they may not be aware of their beliefs and self-statements about the trauma, it may indeed affect their mood and actions.

As Veterans continue in therapy, they learn ways to challenge and change what they believe about them self and the trauma. For some, their beliefs about the event will be more balanced. In therapy, the Veteran and their therapist focus on finding and changing the beliefs that are getting in the way of recovery. Most Veterans notice, as they begin to identify and examine their thoughts, their emotions change and they begin to feel better.

a group discussionDuring the last therapy sessions, the focus is on what the Veteran has been thinking about them self, other people and the world since the trauma. There are five areas where many get stuck; these are safety, trust, control, esteem and intimacy. The Veteran, along with the therapist, will address how each of these areas affects his/her life.

The skills learned and practiced in therapy will not make the memories go away. However, therapy may help the person recover from their trauma. It may also help them live a fuller, happier life. VA therapists throughout the country are trained in Cognitive Processing Therapy. Have you had a traumatic event that you are having difficulty recovering from? If you are interested in more information about this therapy, ask your VA health care provider or a VA mental health professional.

Learn More

PTSD (Common Conditions Center)

PTSD Screening - an online self-assessment tool

National Center for PTSD

The PTSD Coach