a woman cuts her stuck points using cognitive processing therapy, represented with a big pair of scizzors

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Negative thoughts. Anxiety. Fighting to love yourself.

In my previous article, My Therapy Journey, I briefly touched on cognitive processing therapy.

Cognitive processing therapy, or CPT, is a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This form of therapy is a type of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy.

It teaches individuals how to alter unhelpful thoughts and beliefs related to some form of trauma. It is a major tool in overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Who is impacted by PTSD?

A traumatic experience does not only occur to people who were in the military.

While PTSD is normally only spoken about in connection to our veterans, civilians are not immune to developing PTSD. Common events that can precede PTSD include, but are not limited to:1

  • sexual assault
  • abuse
  • losing somebody in an unexpected manner
  • and health issues.

This means that receiving an HIV diagnosis, battling HIV, or an opportunistic infection can cause PTSD.

What is cognitive processing therapy?

According to Matthew Tull, Ph.D., CPT is based on the idea that PTSD symptoms stem from a conflict between pre-trauma beliefs and post-trauma information.2

An example of this is going from the belief that the world is a safe place to the belief that the world is a dangerous, hazardous place. These conflicts are called stuck points.2

What to expect

The initial appointment is much like an introduction to each other and what the basis of the therapy plan will be.

You will also learn how to identify some of your stuck points. One portion of your homework the first night may be to identify stuck points that are affecting your life. You will also be asked to consider how the trauma has affected you in terms of safety, trust, control, esteem, and intimacy.

My stuck points related to HIV

A stuck point is a thought or feeling that has kept you from recovering from your trauma.

When I first started CPT, one of my stuck points was: "I am unlovable because of the HIV diagnosis that came out of my trauma."

Another one that I had was: "I cannot trust doctors because they do not take my symptoms seriously enough and I always end up extremely sick."

You can probably see how these thoughts would prevent me from moving on with my life.

What does homework look like?

The homework assignments all work on breaking down the stuck points that you have identified.

Every week you analyze them a little bit deeper. This helps you to be able to challenge the stuck point beliefs.

By going through the emotions associated with the stuck point and challenging the breakdown of these points, you are then able to develop an alternative thought.

This form of talk therapy takes work

The homework is by no means easy and quick. It is something that takes time and requires you to repeat the information to yourself. The repetitions help you mentally replace the stuck point with a more accurate statement.

For me, cognitive processing therapy is an effective therapy. To make it so effective, it takes work on the patient’s end. Unfortunately, some patients stop going to see their therapist because they are not ready to put in the work to face their anxiety.

Have you done talk therapy before? Have you tried CPT?

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