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Treating Trauma-related Mental Health Disorders with Cognitive Process Therapy

On February 26th I will be presenting a workshop on using cognitive processing therapy (CPT) for the treatment of PTSD. CPT is a manualized 12-session therapy approach that combines exposure therapy with cognitive behavioral therapy. It is classified as an evidence-based therapy because of the extensive research trials that have been conducted and published, indicating the efficacy of CPT.

Exposure therapy enables the individual to tell the traumatic story in a safe environment, in a logical and usually chronological manner, and learn to manage the distress and tolerate the affect. There is power in telling our stories. Cognitive behavioral therapy enables the individual to identify the negative feelings that cause them distress and trace them to the thoughts and beliefs that have become distorted or dysfunctional. By combining exposure therapy and CBT, the individual is able to allow the previously avoided feelings to arise when remembering and talking about the traumatic event and able to safely challenge the beliefs that are associated with the trauma.

For example, an assault victim may believe that it he cannot deal with the memory of the assault because he feels very scared when it is triggered. He feels helpless and powerless. So he avoids thinking about the event or talking about it. He may have developed beliefs that he is helpless and powerless in similar situations. He cannot associate with people who might ask how he is doing because it will trigger memories and he will feel helpless again. He has developed low self-esteem and blames himself. He cannot go to any event that might be a reminder because he does not trust himself. The avoidance grows and may require escape mechanisms such as substance dependence, isolation, or other compulsive patterns in order to feel safe.

In CPT, the individual is provided with a safe platform to process the trauma memories. It enables the individual to first identify how the trauma has affected his life by identifying some of the ways the thinking has gotten “stuck” and then learning to challenge them in the his everyday life. The individual is asked to write about the trauma, identify the negative feelings associated with the trauma and then to challenge cognitive distortions underlying those strong feelings. ABC sheets are used as part of the process to help the individual identify how those beliefs are continuing to interfere with daily living.

For example, the individual might have a trauma-related belief of “I can’t trust other people.” So, he may avoid social activities that used to bring him pleasure and companionship. CPT looks at the association of the belief to the trauma, enables the individual to examine how that belief is currently interfering with his life, and challenges the belief in order to make other choices.

The workshop will provide attendees with the basic manual for conducting cognitive processing therapy with clients. There will be a brief introduction that lists the symptoms of PTSD and how to assess for it. We will discuss the components of CPT and how and why it works. We will go through the manual session by session and I will do my best to share my experiences with using this powerful therapy approach.

Dr. Weller’s CPT workshop will be held on Friday, February 26, 2016 from 1:00-4:15 PM at MSP. The workshop has been approved by MCBAP for 3 contact hours related to substance abuse. It is recommended for health care professionals, particularly psychologists, counselors, social workers, and therapists who seek knowledge about working with clients who have a history of trauma, particularly with a diagnosis of PTSD. It is appropriate for all levels of participants’ knowledge. Click here to find out more and register.


Louise Weller, PhDLouise Weller, PhD, LP, Adjunct Faculty at MSP

Dr. Weller earned her PhD at the University of North Dakota and began her training in the treatment of PTSD and comorbid disorders at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis. She continued that training in a Fellowship at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Dr. Weller worked with veterans with PTSD in her work as a Clinical Psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, in Syracuse, New York, and Columbus, Ohio.