Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is an is an evidence-based treatment that was originally designed for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related conditions. However, it has since been adapted and used effectively for teenagers dealing with trauma and associated mental health challenges. CPT focuses on “restructuring trauma-related maladaptive thoughts about the meaning of the traumatic event and about self, others, or the world that serve to maintain trauma symptoms (i.e., “stuck points”), and helping facilitate emotional processing of the event.” CPT, which is generally delivered over 12 sessions, follows a process that includes three phases:
- First Phase – Psychoeducation: This stage involves learning about and exploring the link between trauma-related thoughts and feelings and how they may manifest as PTSD symptoms. This phase also allows teenagers to identify unhelpful thoughts that might contribute to and/ or exacerbate unwanted symptoms.
- Second Phase – Processing of Trauma: This stage involves helping the teen process the traumatic event. BetterHelp explains that a clinician “may ask the individual to write an impact statement about the trauma and read it back. By confronting the event in a safe environment rather than avoiding it, the client may feel better able to process their emotional responses.”
- Third Phase – Modify Beliefs Related to Traumatic Events: Through Socratic questioning or other techniques, the therapist encourages the adolescent to question their maladaptive thoughts to help them modify unhelpful ways of thinking about their trauma. During this phase, the therapist and teen work together to shift beliefs surrounding common areas of struggle (e.g., safety, trust, power and control, esteem, and intimacy) that are often impacted by trauma.
CPT can reduce the risk of long-term mental health consequences related to trauma. Early intervention with CPT can prevent the development of chronic PTSD and related issues. When integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan, CPT can be a valuable tool in helping teenagers process their traumatic experiences and achieve improved mental health and well-being.
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