Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be challenging. People with PTSD must receive comprehensive treatment that can give them the tools to manage their symptoms and improve functioning. People living with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) may benefit from specialized treatment for both conditions simultaneously. 

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a therapeutic approach designed to help people with PTSD and TBI manage the symptoms related to these conditions. People in CPT receive tailored, compassionate treatment that can help them cope with PTSD and live healthier, more comfortable lives.

This article will explore what cognitive processing therapy is and how it works. You will learn:

  • How PTSD occurs
  • How to recognize the symptoms of PTSD
  • How traumatic brain injuries occur
  • What CPT is
  • What to expect during cognitive processing therapy
  • The benefits of using cognitive processing therapy for PTSD and TBI
  • Where to find help


If you or someone you love lives with PTSD, a brain injury, or another condition affecting cognition, contact The Hartman Center specialists to learn about our effective treatment programs. 

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after a person experiences a traumatic event. Research from the National Center for PTSD showed that about 8% of people in the United States will develop post-traumatic stress at some point in their lifetime. 

Any highly stressful or dangerous event can cause someone to develop lingering symptoms of trauma. Trauma is psychological harm that results from an overwhelming amount of stress or anxiety. 

While the event occurs, people may become overwhelmed by stress that prevents them from coping. Common events that may trigger PTSD include:

  • Car accidents
  • Military combat
  • A physical or sexual assault
  • Being the victim of childhood abuse or neglect
  • A life-threatening medical diagnosis
  • Witnessing a serious accident or death
  • Surviving a natural disaster


Some people develop symptoms of PTSD immediately after experiencing a stressful event. Others may not develop symptoms for weeks, months, or years after the event. 

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Avoiding places, people, or activities that remind the person of the stressful event
  • Insomnia or other sleep issues
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Experiencing flashbacks of the event–essentially re-living the event as though it is happening again
  • Having nightmares about the event
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Anger or aggression
  • Hypervigilance (feeling “on guard” all the time)
  • Being startled easily


Without treatment for PTSD, people can struggle to function. Their symptoms may disrupt their functioning. Many with post-traumatic stress disorder struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms.

Living with untreated PTSD may also increase the risk of substance abuse and addiction. People may “self-medicate” with drugs or alcohol in order to function or cope with challenging symptoms.

People with PTSD require comprehensive treatment to manage their symptoms and restore functioning. Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder may include medications and specialized therapy. 

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) may occur when an external force harms the brain. The injury’s damage may be isolated to one part of the brain or may be present in multiple areas of the brain. 

The severity of a traumatic brain injury can range from a mild concussion to a life-threatening injury. A TBI may be closed, meaning the skull remains intact, or penetrating, meaning an object enters the brain through the skull. 

People who experience TBI may live with cognitive, psychological, and physical effects, including:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased attention span
  • Memory issues
  • Poor coordination or balance
  • Loss of endurance
  • Decreased or heightened physical sensitivity 
  • Challenges in speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty identifying objects

Brain injuries can range from mild to severe, and the symptoms can vary from person to person or change over time. 

Treatment, including specialized therapies, can help people maintain or improve functioning and increase their quality of life. 

What is Cognitive Processing Therapy?

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is a type of therapy designed to help people with PTSD process trauma. CPT practitioners believe that people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about their trauma can prevent them from recovering naturally after a traumatic event. 

Cognitive processing therapy helps people examine their thoughts about the trauma and explore new ways to consider it. People can recover from trauma by learning to think clearly about it more completely. 

Cognitive processing therapy can be helpful in treating people with both PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). 

What are the Goals of CPT?

Cognitive processing therapy typically consists of individual and group therapy sessions. During therapy sessions, clients and trained practitioners work toward specific goals related to managing TBI and PTSD symptoms. 

Here is an overview of the goals of cognitive processing therapy. 


Clients work with a therapist to learn more about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. They examine the way trauma affects their thoughts and emotions. Through processing and exercises, people decrease avoidant behaviors and experience more positive emotions.


People with TBI and PTSD may get “stuck” in their negative beliefs or emotions. In cognitive processing therapy, people learn new skills that allow them to examine their thoughts objectively. They learn to consider other views of their trauma. Over time, they may create new, more positive thoughts about themselves. 


In CPT, people learn practical skills to improve daily functioning. They develop better stress tolerance, reduce negative emotions, and experience less distress around memories of the traumatic event. 

Cognitive processing therapy allows people to process and understand their thoughts and feelings surrounding a traumatic event. It also provides the opportunity to develop practical coping skills that can have a profound, positive impact on daily functioning. 

What to Expect from Cognitive Processing Therapy

Cognitive processing therapy can occur in many settings, including online and in-person sessions. During CPT sessions, clients work with a therapist one-on-one or in groups. 

Typically, cognitive processing sessions last approximately 12 weeks. During this time, people engage in talk therapy and therapeutic exercises to:

  • Understand common beliefs that develop after a trauma
  • Explore ideas about self-worth, safety, trust, and more
  • Identify and reframe destructive thoughts
  • Write the story of traumatic experiences
  • Rewrite the story of the traumatic event
  • Discover a balance between their beliefs before and after experiencing a trauma


Some therapists ask clients to write a statement about how and why their trauma occurred. Clients may complete at-home assignments as part of their cognitive processing therapy. 

Participating in CPT can help people explore and change their thoughts and behaviors, allowing them to improve functioning. 

The Benefits of Using Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD and TBI

There are many benefits associated with using cognitive processing therapy for TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder. People who participate in CPT explore their thoughts and emotions in a meaningful way, allowing them to move forward without the destructive effects of PTSD. 

People living with PTSD and TBI can benefit from integrating CPT into their treatment plans. Some of the most significant benefits of CPT include:

  • A deeper understanding of the effects of trauma
  • Exploring and identifying the symptoms of trauma
  • More awareness of how thoughts impact behaviors
  • Recognizing “stuck points” and learning to move forward
  • Learning new skills to challenge negative beliefs and emotions
  • Recognizing common patterns
  • Fewer negative emotions and thoughts
  • Reduction in harmful behaviors, including substance use


Cognitive processing therapy can help people living with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder reduce symptoms and restore daily functioning. 

Is Cognitive Processing Therapy Effective?

Many mental health and medical experts consider cognitive processing therapy to be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Research shows that engaging in CPT can reduce PTSD symptoms. 

Some studies suggest that CPT is more effective at reducing depression related to PTSD than other forms of therapy. Cognitive processing therapy can positively impact people’s mental health by helping them process emotions and learn practical skills to support their long-term emotional well-being. 

People who participate in CPT as part of TBI or PTSD treatment report improvements in many aspects of daily functioning, including:

  • Feelings of safety
  • Healthier relationships and improved intimacy
  • More distress tolerance
  • Better trust in themselves and others
  • Higher rates of happiness and satisfaction
  • Improved self-esteem


Some people experience worsening PTSD symptoms during the initial stages of cognitive processing therapy. Working with a licensed mental health or medical provider while participating in CPT is critical. 

People with TBI who may benefit from cognitive processing therapy must seek treatment from a licensed medical practitioner who can determine if this approach is suitable for their needs. 

Find Brain Injury Treatment Now

If you or someone you love has a traumatic brain injury and requires brain injury treatment Midland Park, reach out to the specialists at The Hartman Center to explore our programs. Our comprehensive, convenient treatment plans can help you restore functioning and feel more like yourself after a brain injury. 

Contact our intake specialists now to learn about our programs or to schedule an intake assessment.